Last year saw the centenary of the Christmas Truce of World War One – the remarkable event in which soldiers from supposedly ‘enemy’ sides spontaneously decided to meet in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts, play football and wish each other a happy Christmas — much to the disapproval of their leaders, who promptly prohibited such unpatriotic fraternising under threat of court-marshall. To mark this anniversary we posted a photograph from the event, together with a quotation from a contemporary veteran, the former SAS-soldier and founder of Veterans for Peace UK, Ben Griffin: “It is important to remember the truces today only if we are willing to foster in the present the spirit of those who on Christmas Day 1914 put down their weapons and walked out to meet the enemy.”
Veterans for Peace UK is a remarkable organisation of voluntary ex-services men and women who have experienced first-hand the reality of contemporary military conflict and who now work to educate young people on the true nature of military service and war. They believe that violence and warfare are not the solutions to the problems of the twenty-first century. Each year on Remembrance Sunday they gather to remember the dead and lay a wreath on the steps of the Cenotaph. Unlike every other organisation laying wreaths on that day, they remember soldiers from all countries who lost their lives in conflict, and all those killed in war, including civilians and enemy soldiers. In tribute to Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier of the 1914-18 war, they wear a quotation from him on their backs: it simply says ‘War is Organised Murder’.
This year, in response to the British government’s decision to bomb yet another Middle Eastern country, veterans from the organisation went to Downing Street to throw away their medals both in protest against the decision to bomb Syria and also to dispel the mythology of “heroism” connected to the military. The Channel 4 film of the event has now been watched by more than 12 million people; as a result, even more veterans have joined the organisation in solidarity with their conviction that “we’ve got to take a longer term view of this; every time we attack someone, every time we bomb somewhere and kill people, we create an enemy and Isis is the result of previous attacks so we’ve got to accept that and realise that bombing is not the answer; it’s the cause.”
To find out more about Veterans for Peace UK please visit their website. This year they also released an anti-war Christmas single, Christmas Truce, to promote the ideals behind that truce – soldier-led resistance against war and militarism. It is written by folk singer and longtime anti-war activist Ryan Harvey, and sung by Fenya, a London-based singer and member of London’s Food Not Bombs.
We wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year.