POSTSCRIPT / December 23, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Set a ‘Noche Buena’ for presidential bets

PRESIDENT Duterte may want to invite all presidential aspirants to a “Noche Buena” on Christmas Eve and try to convince them that at this point in his life he just wants to see fair and honest national elections in May 2022 as his political legacy.

Since the President is no longer running for any position nor endorsing any of the presidential candidates, he can use the traditional “Noche Buena” to reiterate his avowed neutrality and good faith in the elections – if the opposition and his critics can still believe him.

Two years of the pandemic and the concomitant economic downtrend – and now with a devastating typhoon thrown in – should convince Duterte that nothing can arrest the decline without all sectors pulling together now and under the incoming administration.

We wish all the presidential aspirants would be willing to join a “Noche Buena” or another gathering like it – if only to lessen the viciousness of the rhetoric already raging even before the official start of the campaign on Feb. 8 next year.

Using the “Noche Buena” to promote civility and decency in public discourse may be opportune since in the countryside, and in fact around the world, people are now on Christmas mode, primed for the happy anniversary of the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Aside from the presidential aspirants, Duterte’s dinner guests can include the nominees for vice president or senator of political parties and coalitions. The crowd mix must represent proportionately the contending camps in the May polls.

On another concern but in the same spirit of a truce or the lowering of the intensity of combat, the Commander-in-Chief can order the armed forces to suspend military operations all the way through New Year’s Day without waiting for insurgents and rebels to announce reciprocal moves.

This will enable many soldiers to go home and spend quality time with their families. But with transportation problems, this may be easier said than done.

If going home is not feasible considering the tight situation complicated by COVID-19 protocol, troops and paramilitary personnel can busy themselves with civic action, helping in rescue and relief work in the aftermath of the onslaught of typhoon Odette.

 1914 Christmas truce recalled

WE go to www.history.com to recall war on Christmas Eve in 1914, when “in the dank, muddy trenches on the Western Front of the first world war, a remarkable thing happened.” The incident, now called the “Christmas Truce”, bears rereading:

“British machine gunner Bruce Bairnsfather, later a prominent cartoonist, wrote about it in his memoirs. Like most of his fellow infantrymen of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, he was spending the holiday eve shivering in the muck, trying to keep warm. He had spent a good part of the past few months fighting the Germans.

“And now, in a part of Belgium called Bois de Ploegsteert, he was crouched in a trench that stretched just three feet deep by three feet wide, his days and nights marked by an endless cycle of sleeplessness and fear, stale biscuits and cigarettes too wet to light.

“ ’Here I was, in this horrible clay cavity,’ Bairnsfather wrote, ‘miles and miles from home. Cold, wet through and covered with mud.’ There didn’t ‘seem the slightest chance of leaving – except in an ambulance.’

“At about 10 p.m., Bairnsfather noticed a noise. ‘I listened,’ he recalled. ‘Away across the field, among the dark shadows beyond, I could hear the murmur of voices.’ He turned to a fellow soldier in his trench and said, ‘Do you hear the Boches (Germans) kicking up that racket over there?’

“ ’Yes,’ came the reply. ‘They’ve been at it some time!’

“The Germans were singing carols, as it was Christmas Eve. In the darkness, some of the British soldiers began to sing back. ‘Suddenly,’ Bairnsfather recalled, ‘we heard a confused shouting from the other side. We all stopped to listen. The shout came again.’ The voice was from an enemy soldier, speaking in English with a strong German accent. He was saying, ‘Come over here.’

“One of the British sergeants answered: ‘You come half-way. I come half-way.’

“What happened next would, in the years to come, stun the world and make history. Enemy soldiers began to climb nervously out of their trenches, and to meet in the barbed-wire-filled ‘No Man’s Land’ that separated the armies.

”Normally, the British and Germans communicated across No Man’s Land with streaking bullets, with only occasional gentlemanly allowances to collect the dead unmolested. But now, there were handshakes and words of kindness. The soldiers traded songs, tobacco and wine, joining in a spontaneous holiday party in the cold night.

“Bairnsfather could not believe his eyes. ‘Here they were – the actual, practical soldiers of the German army. There was not an atom of hate on either side.’

“And it wasn’t confined to that one battlefield. Starting on Christmas Eve, small pockets of French, German, Belgian and British troops held impromptu ceasefires across the Western Front, with reports of some on the Eastern Front as well. Some accounts suggest a few of these unofficial truces remained in effect for days.

“For those who participated, it was surely a welcome break from the hell they had been enduring. When the war had begun just six months earlier, most soldiers figured it would be over quickly and they’d be home with their families in time for the holidays. Not only would the war drag on for four more years, but it would prove to be the bloodiest conflict ever up to that time.

“By the time winter approached in 1914, and the chill set in, the Western Front stretched hundreds of miles. Countless soldiers were living in misery in the trenches on the fronts, while tens of thousands had already died.” <https://tinyurl.com/yckrc8fm>

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 23, 2021)

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