Peace on Earth?
Published: December 13, 2011
The vice president took a trip to Iraq last month to mark the end of the war there, or at least the end of U.S. involvement in whatever conflict remains. And it does remain. All U.S. troops will be headed home by the end of this month, a late Christmas present for a war-weary military community.
But peace proves elusive. U.S. troop strength no longer needed in Iraq will likely be redirected to Afghanistan or the Pacific, where concerns are rising about China’s booming economy and unknown military intentions.
Wars and rumors of wars abound. All swords have yet to be beaten into plowshares, as an ancient prophet predicted. The “Isaiah Wall” across from United Nations headquarters in New York bears an inscription of that prophecy. When the UN was created after World War II, many believed that international cooperation could replace armed conflict with peaceful negotiation. Nearly seven decades later, the world still waits.
While we wait, we hope. Political and military revolutions continue, but Earth’s revolution around the sun brings Christmastime again. We sing the songs, light the lights, celebrate the season. Life still offers reasons to be joyful. Peace is present in our world, even if it doesn’t rule.
In the paper last week, a front-page story described the panic caused in a middle-eastern city by the buzz of armed military drones overhead. In the South Pacific, the sound of planes has a different meaning in December. Every year since 1951, air crews at Andersen AFB, Guam, have flown over the remotest islands of the Northern Marianas, delivering toys, food and supplies. One year, my husband helped push pallets out of the back of a C-130. This year’s “Christmas Drop," which started Monday, is expected to deliver about 20,000 pounds of holiday cheer to tiny islands without runways.
Congress wrestles with an unwieldy budget, and military families wonder how they’ll be affected by inevitable cutbacks. Meanwhile, the United Service Organization sends care packages to troops; moving companies and lawn care businesses help military families for free.
Protesters occupy Wall Street, Freedom Plaza and other public spaces, protesting the dominance of big banks and unfair business practices. On the other hand, the richest man in the world lost his title this year because he donated $28 billion — a third of his wealth — to charity.
Sophisticated Grinches steal online shoppers’ identities, yet secret Santas drop valuable gold coins into red Salvation Army kettles in Texas and Florida. Traditional thieves still swipe the occasional package from a front porch, while friendly neighbors leave holiday goodies.
Peace on earth seems unlikely when presidential candidates — in the same political party — compare each other to megalomaniac dictators. Still, we believe our democratic process will survive another election.
The television brings pictures of the aftermath of a suicide bomb in Kabul. The radio plays Christmas carols and greetings from military families stationed in Japan.
One cold winter day last year, my husband bought an olivewood creche. The wood came from Bethlehem, said the merchant, a Muslim man who traveled a long way to tend a craft booth at the Weinachtsmarkt in Rothenberg, Germany. Not long ago, it would have been unimaginable for such disparate creeds and nations to converge in a simple ornament for a Christian holiday.
This week, I took the nativity scene out and put it in our dining room, a reminder that in the absence of peace on earth, there is still good will and a reason to hope.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet their words repeat of “Peace on earth, good will to men.”
And in despair I bowed my head. “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’” …
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead nor doth he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (father of an injured soldier) Dec. 25, 1864