Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gary Palmer: Christmas Bells

  It is hard to put the ideas of war and Christmas in the proper context. War represents our worst fears - death and destruction and subjugation to our enemies; Christmas brings to mind our greatest hopes - peace on earth and the hope of eternity.

  War has destroyed the hope of many people. The incomprehensible death and destruction of World Wars I and II led almost directly to the nations of Europe swinging from Christianity to being largely agnostic or atheistic. For the majority of Europeans, the ringing of bells on Christmas Day has no meaning beyond sentimentalism for a lost faith.
  But Europeans are not alone in suffering the ravages of war. As a result of the War Between the States, America lost more than 600,000 to death, with hundreds of thousands more grievously wounded. However, we did not abandon our faith. It is interesting to note that the South was subjected to massive destruction during the war and yet, 145 years after the war, the South is regarded as the nation's Bible Belt.

  Interestingly, it was during the War Between the States that one of our nation's great poets wrote a poem that reflects both the despair and hope of people in time of war.

  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote "Christmas Bells" in 1864, one year after  Charles, his oldest son, had been seriously wounded and two years after the death of his wife. The down-hearted Longfellow wrote:

  I heard the bells on Christmas Day their old familiar carols play,                    
  And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!

  Even in the death and destruction of war, good-will remains. During World War I, British and German soldiers serenaded each other with Christmas carols from their trenches. On Christmas Day in 1914, soldiers on both sides set up Christmas trees and other decorations in their trenches and many met between the lines to share gifts, bury each other's dead, and participate in worship services together.

  And thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom
  Had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good-will to men!

  Till, ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day,
  A voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good-will to men!

  In 1941, just eighteen days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans celebrated another wartime Christmas. On Christmas Eve, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his side, lit the national Christmas tree. On Christmas Day, the news services reported that the British colony of Hong Kong had surrendered to the Japanese and reported the last message sent by the Marines on Wake Island: "Enemy on island - Issue in Doubt."  

  Then from each black, accursed mouth the cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound the carols drowned of peace on earth, good-will to men!

  It was as if an earthquake rent the hearth-stones of a continent,                                 
  And made forlorn the households born of peace on earth, good-will to men!

  The cannons of our enemies have never drowned Americans' hope or resolve. Along with the somber news of the fall of Hong Kong and the desperate message from Wake Island on Christmas Day, The New York Times received this message from the American soldiers and Marines defending Midway Island: "We are still here. Merry Christmas."

  And six months later, the U.S. navy inflicted a devastating defeat against Japanese naval forces at Midway that marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

  Even in our darkest days, America's faith has not faltered. In fact, it has often gotten stronger. In the days and weeks after 9/11, attendance in America's churches soared as people, shocked and outraged by the murder of almost 3,000 Americans, sought strength for what almost all knew would be a long and difficult struggle.

  So, despite the turmoil and mayhem served up by the media as American soldiers remain in foreign countries, the faith of millions of families still holds strong in the hope that Christmas represents.

  Longfellow concluded his poem with:

  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."

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

1 comment:

  1. Professional right wing shill Gary Palmer wrote "... despite the turmoil and mayhem served up by the media as American soldiers remain in foreign countries ..." in the above but I'm lost how it relates to ideas of faith persevering through difficult times. I reckon Mr. Palmer feels compelled to throw in a standard meme of the modern conservative movement. The press being spread across the empire trying to keep the government honest as they spend blood and treasure certainly sounds like something that should be celebrated to this Godless heathen. John Gunn