War And Peace On Earth At Christmas

In the Christmas story, angels announced the birth of the Messiah to shepherds in a field and spoke of peace on earth. Some two thousand years later peace is elusive at Christmas as well as the rest of the year. Our country’s news is full of shootings and acrid political divisiveness. How could there possibly be peace even for a brief moment under these circumstances? Well, miracles do occur at Christmas, and fleeting peace once occurred in the midst of a world war–the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Unless you’re a history buff, you’ve probably never heard of this historical and heartwarming event. I hadn’t either until I happened upon the movie “Joyeux Noel” one year, a film which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. I took French in high school and can tell you “Joyeux Noel” means “Merry Christmas.” And why was the movie’s title in French? Well, bien sur, it was a French film. Mercifully, there were subtitles, so I didn’t have to bemoan how much French I’ve forgotten or how much French I never learned.

“Joyeux Noel” is a fictionalized account of an actual event, the Christmas Truce of 1914. The film presents the historical occurrence as seen through the eyes of German, French, and Scottish soldiers. It was a December to remember, but not because there was any type of a luxury car sales event. The holiday was memorable because it established that even a world war couldn’t destroy the Christmas spirit.

It was only a few months into World War I–a war many expected to be over quickly, specifically by Christmas. But bitter fighting raged and Christmas came to the soldiers whether they were ready or not for it. Pope Benedict XV urged a temporary cessation of the hostilities for the celebration of Christmas; however, the warring countries refused to agree to an official ceasefire. Also opposing an official truce was Adolf Hitler, then a young corporal in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry. (Yet another reason to detest Adolf.)

To boost morale at this magical time of the year, Wilhelm, the German Crown Prince, sent the lead singer from the Berlin Imperial Opera Company to the front lines. Tenor Walter Kirchhoff sang to the 120th and 124th Wurttenberg regiments. At the end of his performance, French soldiers in the trenches stood up and applauded. Apparently music is a universal language appreciated by all, no matter what country’s uniform one wears.

In addition to a musical performance, German troops received Christmas trees and boxes of cigars inscribed Weinachten Im Feld 1914. Whew! Boy were the German troops happy. They wouldn’t want to be caught dead (literally or figuratively) without Christmas trees for their trenches.And who cares if their cigars were stinky? Their opponents clearly knew where the Germans were located. Ah, yes–in the beautifully decorated trenches across the way.

But better than opera singers and superfluous gifts for a war zone was what the soldiers gave themselves for Christmas–a truce. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front. This front stretched some 500-miles and involved a million or so troops.  The truce was initiated by the soldiers on their own and not by their commanders.

Historical reports indicate that the first truce began on Christmas Eve in the region of Ypres, Belgium, and that the Germans initiated it. German troops hadn’t decked the halls with boughs of holly, but they had decorated the area around their trenches. Candles had been placed on the trenches and on their Christmas trees so thoughtfully sent to them by the powers that be back home. After their decorating was concluded, the German troops began singing Christmas carols. Their foes may not have understood the German words, but they recognized the music and responded by singing their own carols in English. Christmas greetings were then shouted between the officially warring sides.

But wait! There’s more. The soldiers refrained from shooting, and men from both sides eventually ventured out into no man’s land. There small gifts were exchanged and friendly conversations occurred. Germans gave beer to the British who gave tobacco and tinned meat in return. Souvenirs such as buttons and hats were also traded. Some soldiers even played soccer together. According to some reports, the Germans won the soccer match 3-2. In a more solemn fashion, joint burial ceremonies were held and prisoners were swapped. As German Lt. Kurt Zehmsic commented, “Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for awhile.”

The spirit of this Christmas truce was the subject of a popular holiday song, “Snoopy’s Christmas,” which references the World War I truce. The song tells how Snoopy had to go out on Christmas Eve and fight the Bed Baron. After a long dogfight, the Red Baron forces Snoopy to land and offers him a holiday toast. Afterwards, each took off to the skies “each knowing they’d meet on some other day.”

Sadly, with the end of Christmas it was back to business as usual in World War I, i.e., killing each other. The war continued on for a few more years, but future attempts at holiday ceasefires were squelched by officers threatening disciplinary action. The outbreaks of spontaneous humanity and good will to fellow man were not repeated in future wartime Christmases.

A familiar quote is that history is doomed to repeat itself. If that’s the case, then I am all for the history of the Christmas Truce of 1914 repeating itself. OK, I’m not suggesting that we need to have a world war so that we can take a break from it; nevertheless, I am hoping that, despite the deep divisions here in the U.S., we can lay aside our political differences for a brief time and celebrate the day where peace on earth was announced. I’ll bet Snoopy and the Red Baron would be in as I am. How about you?

Just WONDER-ing:

Despite vastly differing political views, aren’t we all at the end of the day fellow humans? If we truly believe in what Christmas stands for, shouldn’t we be willing to lay aside our differences to embrace the ideal of peace on earth? Can’t we, as my mother would say, disagree without being disagreeable?

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I Don’t Want For Christmas

Sadly, the focus of Christmas is materialistic. What one wants for Christmas or, if you listen to the ads, what you deserve for Christmas, is a top consideration. Why there are even songs about Christmas wishes. Who hasn’t heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” a gazillion times? And two front teeth are the objects of desire in another tune about Christmas wishes. Perhaps I march to the beat of a different drummer, but I’ve stopped to consider what I DON’T want for Christmas. Here are a few items on my “Don’t Wish” list.

1.  Tickets To The 2020 Python Bowl.  I love college football and would welcome the opportunity to be in the stands at a bowl game. In particular, I’d be on cloud nine if I had tickets to the Sugar Bowl to watch my alma mater play Baylor. (GO DAWGS!!!)  But I would refuse tickets to the Python Bowl in southern Florida in January. Never heard of the Python Bowl? Well, the event is just what the name implies. There’s no pigskin involved–just snakeskin. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced a python hunting competition in an effort to rid the Sunshine State of this non-native destructive species. Pythons are a big problem in Florida both literally and figuratively.  These snakes can grow up to 20 feet long and 200 pounds. Snakes alive! Better yet, snakes dead as a result of the Python Bowl.

2. Receiving An A. Typically an A is something good to get–if you are a student. However, if you are a Florida resident, getting an A could be horrible news if that A is Hepatitis A. The number of Hepatitis A cases in Florida is growing exponentially; in fact, Florida’s Surgeon General declared a public health emergency in August as a result. The outbreak is hitting Floridians harder than elsewhere in the country. Seventy-eight percent of the Hepatitis A cases in Florida have required hospitalization compared to 60 percent nationally; the mortality rate in Florida is also higher than the national rate. Therefore, I won’t be yelling “Give me an A!” this Christmas.

3. Absurd Art. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. But common sense dictates that a banana duct-taped to a wall is simply not art. A monkey could accomplish that result assuming he didn’t eat said banana first. Nevertheless, a Miami couple coughed up over $100,000 for an Italian artist’s “conceptual artwork” made with a piece of fruit, some sticky tape, and a wall. So any of you well-heeled art lovers who are dying to gift me with expensive art can forgo any rendition of a masterpiece involving a Chiquita product. Sorry, it just doesn’t a-PEEL to me.

4. Ring Security Camera. A security camera is meant to provide, well, a sense of security, right? That’s not the case for a number of owners of Ring cameras recently who experienced a breach of security in their homes. Rather than promoting security, these devices provided the means for a breach of it to occur. One couple was aghast to learn someone had hacked into their Ring security camera and used it to talk to their 8 year old daughter while she was alone in her room. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to non-technological means of home security, i.e., my dog. Hack that security device; I dare you!

5. A Shore Excursion To White Island. I love to travel and explore new places. But some places just aren’t worth the risk of visiting. A case in point is White Island in New Zealand. The island is the exposed tip of a highly volatile mostly undersea volcano. Despite the volcano regularly venting steam and mud, some curious tourists took a shore excursion to White Island from their cruise ship. Forty-seven people were on the island at the time of an eruption a week ago Monday; sixteen of those 47 have died. Curiosity killed the proverbial cat, and it might kill some adventurous tourists as well. Think I’ll stay home where it’s nice and safe this Christmas.

6. Faux Foods.  Healthy eating and Christmas don’t go hand in hand. Dieting discipline goes out the window when one is offered homemade candies and baked goods during the holidays. Even though these items may be a foe to keeping a trim waistline, at least they undeniably taste good. I won’t be clamoring for someone to offer me the top food of 2019–cauliflower pizza. Yes, according to Grubhub’s annual “Year in Food” report, this type of pizza rose in popularity by 650% from the previous year. The top meat-alternative food was the impossible burger. Yup, that name sums it up for me. It would be impossible for me to get excited about biting into this burger. I’d want to know, “Where’s the beef?”

7.  A Gold Plated Vacuum Cleaner.  In the “What were they thinking?” category is the gold plated vacuum cleaner. I am not enamored with doing house cleaning, and that outlook is not likely to change even if my cleaning equipment looks like a million bucks and has a matching price tag for that amount. Admittedly, I’d be in an elite group of only 100 people who owned this gleaming dust guzzler. But do I care what the packaging is on the outside of a container which has gathered the pet hair and dirt from my carpets and floors? Nope.

Fortunately, chances are slim I’ll receive any of the things listed here that I don’t want. Actually, the things I want most for Christmas are not items which can be put in a box and wrapped up for giving. How about some peace on Earth or at least less divisiveness here in our country? Could I get some down time where I could kick back and relax without being busy, busy, busy? Can we all experience the joy of the true meaning of Christmas which has nothing to do with Santa, wish lists, and packages under the Christmas tree? The best present of all was wrapped up for us in some swaddling clothes; He’s the reason for the season.

Just WONDER-ing: Is there something you don’t want for Christmas? If so, what is it? Have you gotten something you did want for Christmas and then were disappointed by it?

 

 

Base Goings On At The Naval Base

As a resident of a small Florida Panhandle town, I find horrible things usually happen elsewhere. Our neighboring town is Niceville (yes, really!), so how could the unspeakable happen in our neck of the woods? Well, it can and it did last Friday when an active shooter event at NAS Pensacola brought terror, death, and insecurity to our beautiful area here on the Gulf of Mexico. What happened and what’s the takeaway?

WHAT HAPPENED? It was a day like all days. Thousands of military members and civilians were streaming to work at NAS Pensacola, a base which employs 16,000+ military and 7,400 civilians. Being Friday, many were probably contemplating their weekend plans. Concern about a pending terrorist attack was a remote worry–if one at all. But, apparently, it should have been.

Shortly before 7:00 a.m. a report was received about an active shooter on the base. Response was swift; Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene in mere moments where shooting was underway in a classroom building. The pop of gunfire was certainly more alarming to the students than a pop quiz. Sadly, the shooter was one of them, and he killed three of his fellow students.

The students who died were all young (23, 21, and 19) active duty members of the U.S. Navy. It is unknown how they were doing in their military studies, but they aced real life heroism. The three ran TOWARD (not away from) the shooter. One of these students, although wounded extensively, got away and made contact with first responders; he provided a description of the shooter before succumbing to his injuries. It was helpful for the deputies to know more than the shooter was the lunatic firing a gun.

Law enforcement officers exchanged gunfire with the shooter who shot and wounded two deputies. One deputy managed to shoot and kill the shooter. At 7:50 a.m., the shooter was confirmed dead. The incident was over, but the questions about it were just beginning.

As the smoke from the gunfire cleared, authorities determined the shooter had killed three sailors, wounded eight people, and blown up the sense of safety and security in the Pensacola area. The Navy base was closed all day Friday and remained on lockdown through Sunday. Area residents and authorities were concerned because it was uncertain whether the shooter had been acting alone.

As if a shooting incident wasn’t bad enough, the community then learned the identity of the shooter. He was a 21 year old Saudi Air Force 2nd lieutenant, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who had been in the U.S. for military training since 2017. The FBI has confirmed, to no one’s surprise, it is operating on the assumption the shooting was an act of terrorism.

Authorities believe a social medial post critical of U.S. support for Israel and claiming the U.S. is anti-Islamic was made by the shooter. Moreover, they learned the shooter had hosted a dinner party earlier in the week attended by three other students; in addition to eating, attendees viewed videos of mass shootings. Nevertheless, the Saudi Air Force officer, who was vetted in order to study here in the U.S., was flying under the radar as far as the authorities were concerned.

Of small consolation is the fact that the shooter legally purchased the gun he used to carry out his rampage. Whew! We wouldn’t want guns illegally in the hands of possible terrorists. The shooter wielded a Glock 45 9 mm gun which he bought legally in the Sunshine State. Typically foreigners cannot buy weapons here, but where there’s an evil will, there’s a way. The shooter found a legal loophole which allowed him to buy the gun. He purchased a hunting license by establishing state residency which then allowed him to buy a gun for hunting. Did no one think to ask him WHAT he planned to hunt? “Two legs or four, sir?”

In the immediate aftermath of the violence were reports that not all Saudis from NAS Pensacola were accounted for. Hello? Who’s minding the military store?  How do you lose foreign military members? Later reports stated all Saudis had been accounted for and that they had never not been accounted for. Of course, these reports came from authorities who were clueless there was a gun-toting foreigner bashing America on social media among us before the incident, so let’s take what they have to say with a grain of salt. Moreover, let’s hope they are keeping an American eagle eye trained on the Saudi student who was filming the violence as it was ongoing.

WHAT’S THE TAKEAWAY?

Now that we know what happened at NAS Pensacola last Friday, what should we learn from it?

  1. There’s a potential for violence ANYWHERE. This incident occurred on a military base with restricted access; firearms are not authorized except for security forces. Armed guards are on site, and security is a paramount concern. If you can’t be safe there, where can you be safe? The answer is, of course, you can’t. You needn’t live in constant fear, but you should be cognizant of your surroundings.
  2. If you see something, say something. If anyone had bothered to report the shooter was watching videos of mass shootings or that someone had posted anti-American rhetoric on social media, perhaps last Friday’s shooting would never have happened. You can’t sit idly by. Bad things can and likely will happen if no one speaks up about something suspicious.
  3. We are the world. It is not simply Americans living in the U.S. The shooter was only one of about 200 foreign nationals receiving training at NAS Pensacola. In fact, there are over 5,000 foreign nationals from 153 countries who are undergoing military training in the U.S.; of this number, 852 are from Saudi Arabia. (Perhaps this figure should be reduced by one now with the death of the shooter.) People with different allegiances and ideologies are in our communities. That doesn’t necessarily mean someone from a foreign country is ipso facto a threat, it simply means that the world is right here among us.

My heart is heavy our beautiful Emerald Coast has been touched by hatred and violence. Last Friday was a day like all days filled with both good and bad. The bad was very bad–the senseless loss of young lives. The good was very good–those who rose to the occasion and acted as heroes at the cost of their own lives. Today is a new day, and it likewise will be filled with bad and good. Let’s do our part to contribute good to it.

Just WONDER-ing:  

If you live in the Florida Panhandle, has this violence impacted your sense of safety and security? What, if anything, could have been done to prevent this tragedy? What strikes you more–the selflessness of the three sailors who died taking on the shooter or the hatred of the shooter driving him to go on a shooting rampage?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over The Ocean And Through The Dark To See The Troops He Goes

In a classic case of “you can’t believe everything you read,” Newsweek predicted President Donald Trump would spend his Thanksgiving golfing and tweeting. What really happened? The Commander in Chief flew to Afghanistan under cover of darkness to be a surprise guest at the Thanksgiving meal for troops at Bagram Air Field. So, who was more surprised? The troops or Newsweek?

Regardless of what your political leanings are, Americans can certainly agree  the troops stationed in Afghanistan serving our country sacrifice a lot. Having their Commander in Chief make the effort to appear personally to express thanks for their service was undeniably a morale booster for them. I mean, President Trump could have spent his Thanksgiving merely playing golf, tweeting, and eating turkey at Mar-a-Lago. But no, he went out of his way to travel halfway around the world to serve turkey to our troops.

Lest you think that this trip was no big deal, let’s consider the facts. In the first place, President Trump’s Thanksgiving destination was further than over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. The round trip totaled 33 hours. Upon arrival in Afghanistan, the president advised he had traveled 8, 331 miles to get there to join the men and women stationed at Bagram. That’s a long way. Just imagine how many times someone on his plane could’ve asked “Are we there yet?”

Furthermore, this Thanksgiving trek was unannounced. It had to be kept under wraps and concealed from the president’s public schedule for security reasons. As a result, cloak and dagger moves were required. Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday where he would presumably, according to Newsweek, be golfing and tweeting. Nevertheless, Trump secretly flew out of Palm Beach back to Washington, D.C. Wednesday under cover of darkness leaving Air Force One behind. Apparently it was believed people would assume he was still in Florida if his plane was there.  There is no word as to whether the president wore a trench coat for his great escape.

Awaiting his arrival in D.C. were thirteen clueless reporters and photographers assembled on the top floor of a parking garage. I say clueless because they had no idea of their destination. The group was transported to Andrews Air Force Base where they secretly (from other journalists and the public) boarded the hidden twin version of Air Force One which was stashed away in a large hangar. The plane took off at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday night with the shades drawn and the running lights off.

Cell phones were confiscated from all those aboard the plane. Yes, even President Trump’s phone was taken from him. But wait! Weren’t tweets coming from his Twitter account during his flight? Why, yes, indeed they were. To cover his absence, the White House posted tweets from the president’s Twitter account while he was in the air.

President Trump and his entourage arrived in the darkness at Bagram just after 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. He was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers because, after all, the Commander in Chief was in a war zone. The President was put to work serving turkey to the troops, but he didn’t get time to eat any. He eventually got food for himself, but after taking a bite of mashed potatoes he was called to pose for photos leaving the turkey, cornbread, and remaining mashed potatoes on his plate uneaten. Eagle-eyed and likely hungry pool reporters revealed that ham, mac and cheese, and candied yams were also on the military’s holiday menu.

While at Bagram, the president fulfilled presidential duties. He met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and announced that talks with the Taliban had been reopened. He also addressed some 1,500 troops who had gathered in an aircraft hangar to hear from their Commander in Chief. Apparently the president was too busy with these presidential duties to play golf while there. He also spent the holiday away from his wife, Melania, who did not accompany him.

The news embargo about the unannounced trip was lifted after the president had been at Bagram for about three hours and was getting ready to depart. The long trip back home was broken up by a stop at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany where the president switched to the real Air Force One which had been flown in from Florida for him. (Does this mean there is an Air Force One A and an Air Force One B?) He returned to Mar-a-Lago where he was still able to work in some golf and tweets before returning to the White House.

President Trump’s trip to Afghanistan was not his first trip to a war zone. OK, well, an official war zone. Political skirmishes are ongoing in Washington, D.C. He and Melania traveled to Iraq to visit troops last Christmas. In choosing Bagram, the president went to the largest military base in Afghanistan, one occupied by the Afghan Armed Forces and U.S. forces. Bagram is the base of operations for most U.S. air activity in Afghanistan as it has a dual concrete runway capable of handling any size aircraft.

A military base in Afghanistan is not a cushy or particularly safe spot to spend a holiday or even a few hours on one. Bagram is located at a high altitude (4,895 feet above sea level to be exact) near the Hindu Kush mountain range. Temperatures can be extreme (translate below zero) and violence is always a threat (think suicide bombers and incoming mortars).

President Trump was beaming and smiling during his time at Bagram. Even assuming he had a great Thanksgiving there, he hopes he won’t have to return. He campaigned on a promise to get the U.S. out of “endless wars,” and the war in Afghanistan certainly qualifies for that designation. It is the longest war in U.S. history; American troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The war has spanned three presidential administrations and seen thousands of U.S. troops stationed there. Currently about 12,000 troops remain in Afghanistan, down from the 14,000 earlier in the year. That’s a lot of people to supply with a holiday meal!

Thanksgiving is now over, but the president’s trip provided reasons for giving further thanks. The troops in Bagram had a memorable holiday and were told how much they were appreciated even if they were far from home. American citizens were assured that if, God forbid, something happened to Air Force One, its twin is ready and able to take to the skies. The press got a feel good story to run for the holiday albeit pretty much after the fact. Not giving thanks, however, are a large number of turkeys who got the short end of the wishbone and gave their lives to feed Americans both at home and stationed abroad.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are you surprised that President Trump was able to slip out of the country unnoticed? Is it safe for a sitting president to visit a war zone? Has someone you know been stationed in Afghanistan?