The Christmas Truce (Yet Again)

A couple of years ago around this time, I wrote a post titled Lessons from the Christmas Truce of 1914,” which is by far the most read thing on on this site.  Last year I had a lesser viewed follow-up about a man named Julio Diaz, a New Yorker who responded to a teenage mugger with compassion, which led to a conversation at a diner and the teen voluntarily handing over his weapon. 


Together, the two posts address some attributes we have as a species that facilitate cooperation,  even in times that are enormously challenging. These include, but are not limited to: empathy, the benefits of mutualism, and trust. We can find certainly find many counterexamples lately, with people inflicting great pain and suffering on each other. In recent memory, these include the horrific shooting deaths in Newtown, Connecticut  or the use of cluster bombs against civilians in Syria. This makes examples of cooperation all the more necessary.


To continue with this late December tradition, here is the story of a German fighter pilot from World War II named Franz Stigler and an American bomber pilot named Charles Brown:

On Dec. 20, 1943, a young American fighter pilot named Charlie Brown was on his first World War II mission. Flying in the German skies, Brown’s B-17 bomber was shot and badly damaged. As Brown and his men desperately tried to escape enemy territory back to England, a German fighter plane pulled up to their tail. It seemed certain death. Instead of shooting the plane down, however, the German pilot, Franz Stigler, escorted the Americans to safety.  (source)

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I Should Like to Say Two Things

With another contentious election now behind us, I’ve been thinking about this famous, lengthy quote from Bertrand Russell. In an interview from 1959, he spoke of the need for people to find common ground and to make an honest effort at seeking truth, even when we don’t like what the truth is.

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.

The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say: Love is wise. Hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

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Reconciliation: It Can Be Done

Below is the inspiring, symbolic photo of the Queen shaking hands with Martin McGuiness, formerly of the IRA and current Sinn Féin deputy first minister. 


Martin McGuinness and the Queen

McGuiness and the Queen (Belfast, June 27, 2012)


In Us, Them, and Non-zero Sumness, I wrote: 

It may not always be easy, but former enemies can reconcile. Peace is possible. Seemingly intractable conflicts can be solved when attitudes shift and old identities take on secondary importance to a newer, more inclusive, one.”


I don’t mean to sound too pollyannish. Attempts to overcome interpersonal and intergroup conflicts would not be necessary without the problems we create in the first place. Furthermore, handshakes are merely symbols, not policy. But, they are powerful symbols. I’ve been compiling a list of examples of reconciliation here, incorporated into essays that explore this part of the human experience. I welcome any other examples you know of. Thanks.


Robert McNamara and Vo Ngyuen Giap (Hanoi, Nov 1995)


File:Gorbachev and Reagan 1985-9.jpg

Reagan and Gorbachev (Geneva, November 1985)


Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman & Apology

Amazingly gracious for a mother who lost her son.

“If I had an opportunity to talk to George Zimmerman, I would probably give him the opportunity to apologize. I would probably ask him if there was another way he could have helped settle the confrontation that he had with Trayvon, other than the way it ended, with Trayvon being shot.” – Sybrina Fulton, Travyon Martin’s mother. 

To me, it’s yet another example of the need for reconciliation, or at least understanding, under difficult circumstances. It reminds me of some of the many other instances of apology/forgiveness described on this blog:  Kim Phuc & John Plummer;  Pham Thanh Cong & William Calley; Jack Jacobs & Pham Phi Huang; Poles & Russians; Croatians, Serbs & Bosnians, El Salvador & El Mozote; etc. It can be done.

Related Posts

Reconciliation, Biology, and the Second Indochina War 

Reconciliation and the Second Indochina War II

Further Strides Toward Reconciliation

Peace with the ‘Enemy’

Making Peace with the Past

Reconciliation & the Second Indochina War, II

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” – Dalai Lama


I wrote this post, titled Reconciliation, Biology, & the 2nd Indochina War, about a year ago, and I consider it one of the more meaningful things on this site. It addresses:

(1) Examples of profound case studies in reconciliation and making peace with the past (Kim Phuc and John Plummer; the My Lai massacre, Pham Thanh Cong, and William Calley; various national-level apologies for past injustices).

(2) The significance, evolution, and neurobiology of guilt and forgiveness.

(3) Lingering injustices and problems caused by the war, as well as a few reasons for optimism. 

Admittedly, it is a bit long, and if you don’t make it to the end, it concludes on a hopeful note:

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Further Strides toward Reconciliation

One of the major themes of this blog has been reconciliation and cooperation under difficult circumstances. Below are three pertinent, hopeful stories on reconciliation that I’ve collected over the last few months.

1. Colombia to Spend $30 B to Compensate War Victims (AlertNet; Jan 24, 2012)

Reparations to victims of Colombia’s long, bloody armed conflict will reach as much as $30 billion in the next 10 years, the government said on Tuesday… The reparation program will benefit more than 3 million victims of the war, which has dragged on for nearly five decades.”

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Peace with the ‘Enemy’

NBC News has been running a compelling series on the return of American Col. Jack Jacobs to Vietnam, where he was wounded forty years ago. I recommend this insightful essay by Col. Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and former West Point faculty. It describes his meeting with the former commander that ambushed his battalion, as well as his general reflections on the ‘enemy.’

But the enemy is an amoebic mass, a single-minded monolithic inhuman force. Killed in action, they are only a logistical problem, and you get a feeling of them as individuals only when you capture them, scared, wounded and shivering. They are no longer part of the enemy organism, and it is only then they come to life as people.”

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