Preston Manning is the former leader of the Reform Party of Canada and a former leader of the official opposition in Parliament.
It was around Christmas Day in 1914, five months after the start of the First World War, when a most unusual thing happened along the Western Front. The sounds of rifle fire and exploding shells faded, then ceased altogether, to be replaced by the faint sounds of Christmas carols wafting from the trenches. As dawn broke, German soldiers emerged from those trenches calling out “Merry Christmas” in English as they crossed no man’s land toward the Allied lines. Seeing that the Germans were unarmed, Allied soldiers climbed out of their trenches to shake hands with men they had only known before as “the enemy.”
Gifts – cigarettes and food rations – were exchanged amid more hand shaking and carol singing.
A temporary peace descended on the Western Front – one organized by rank-and-file soldiers, not by their officers who feared trickery by the enemy and not by generals and politicians far away from the front both physically and psychologically.
Flash forward now to Christmas, 2021, with the world again at war – not a military war, but a war with a virus that has pitted the proponents of safety at all costs against those suffering the loss of their rights, freedoms, jobs and incomes as a result of the safety measures imposed. Communities, companies, charities, schools, churches, sports clubs and families have become increasingly divided – often bitterly – over whether to wear masks and social distance, whether to congregate or travel, whether to accept economic lockdowns and whether to be vaccinated and if so with what.
In addition, the bitterness of these conflicts is intensified by the spread of a social virus – the so-called “cancel culture” – whereby if you disagree with me on any issue related to COVID-19, I will cut off all communication and association with you and your kind rather than simply agreeing to disagree amiably.
The political and media arena in Canada has become so polarized that discussion of almost any measure intended to alleviate that condition can easily become polarized as well. Let me therefore be more clear that what I mean by “the proponents of safety at all costs” are not the adherents to those safety measures – not those who willingly consent to such measures including vaccination mandates – but the well-intended governmental decision makers and health officials responsible for devising and implementing those safety measures. And what I mean by “those suffering the loss of their rights, freedoms, jobs and incomes as a result of the safety measures adopted” – are not just those who may resist some of these measures but anyone and everyone affected by them, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.
In December, 1914, there would have been no “Christmas truce” if the soldiers had started blaming each other for the conflict and its casualties when they met in no man’s land. Polarized communications of this type would have ended the truce even before it began.
Who can say who will emerge in the long run as the ultimate victors in the war with the virus and the divisive conflicts it has generated on numerous fronts? Perhaps there will be no victors, only victims. But how about the short run? How about striking a genuine truce – just over the Christmas season – as those First World War soldiers did so many years ago? Especially at the community and family levels, how about just deciding to stop arguing, to simply agree to stop blaming and to disagree amiably for a short time, to exchange niceties however small, and to seek a renewal and strengthening of personal relationships rather than cancelling them?
If such a truce is to be struck, it is unlikely to be initiated by senior public officials or politicians who are preoccupied with waging the COVID-19 war at the macro level. Nor is it likely that such a truce will be initiated by the mass media, for whom conflict and war are much more newsworthy than co-operation and peace. No, if such a Christmas truce is to be struck it will be initiated by rank-and-file Canadians at the family and community levels – by ordinary folk who simply decide to emerge from the isolation of whatever COVID-19 trench they find themselves in and extend the hand of friendship to those with whom their relationships have been strained or broken by the crisis.
A 2021 Christmas truce would be short and temporary. But, if enough Canadians participate in it, maybe the desire to return to the trenches will be lessened to the point where Armistice Day will follow sooner rather than later.
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