Commemoration and Christmas

Coming up to Christmas in this centenary year of the First World War it is appropriate that we remember that profound moment when one soldier made a move to make human contact with the enemy, the move that led to a game of football on Christmas day between the German and English soldiers.  But is it offensive to find such moments of human compassion portrayed in a supermarket advert?  The Sainsbury advert is beautifully made. There are many who would find it worthy because it is jointly made with the British Legion.  The film conveys the meeting of young soldiers from enemy lines with reverence.  But does this commercialisation – so effectively done – get the to heart of the problem with remembering war?  Lest We Forget.  The human drive to remember and commemorate is an essential part of trying to make sense of horror and loss.  But it can also be manipulated and used to glorify and make myths of war, to sell false ideas of nobility and honour.  At the time opposing troops were making their own informal truce and “Fraternising” with the enemy, Christmas 1914,  101 British women suffragists also made their own calls for a truce in an open public letter “to the women of Germany and Austria”in which they stated:

Is it not our mission to preserve life? Do not humanity and common sense alike prompt us to join hands with the women of neutral countries, and urge our rulers to stay further bloodshed? … 

This message had no power with the powerful but such calls for peace are essential to reminding us of our capacity to challenge the dark drives of the state.  We have a duty to commemorate because we have a duty to live, to keep going, to continue to try to make sense of the senseless acts of history because they can so easily be repeated.

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