Christmas Miracles Happen in Trench Warfare and the Byzantine Empire

Christmas in USA #1 is arguably bipolar, sort of like the occasional female lead in anime. On one hand, there is consumerism and the excesses of capitalism; on the other, there is the warm sentimentality of gift-giving and family-celebrating. The bipolar nature of the holiday has taken on its own spirit throughout the world in places as far and weird as Japan – all in all very far removed from its quaint and ancient origins in the world of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

We should appreciate it all the while, regardless of whether we prefer to burn ourselves in the flames of consumerist greed or drown ourselves in the ocean of sappy family get-togethers and egg nog (I hate egg nog, actually). Either way, we’re still better off than those unfortunate men trapped in the battle hell of the Franco-German border 97 years ago, who had the luck of celebrating Christmas in arguably one of the stupidest and sh*ttiest wars in history. Yet every time I hear their story – the story of the Christmas truce – I almost cry a bit, literally, and am convinced that, somehow, humans are actually capable of being nice to each other for once.

The Christmas truce was, otherwise, very much like a Christmas miracle in every sense of the word, for 97 years ago – in 1914 – several months into World War I, things – for lack of better wording – sucked. Imagine this:

You have been sitting in (literally) a sh*t and mud filled trench for days, weeks, months even. And when you have been let out, it was only so that you could run at a blizzard of machine-gun fire, artillery shells, grenade shrapnel, and poisonous gas. And as winter dawns, as snow begins to fall, nothing has changed: you still sit in your trench, perhaps fresh from another run over the trench that killed or wounded half your buddies. Yet it’s Christmas, and you sorely miss your mother, father, lover, siblings, and everyone back home, and you miss celebrating the holiday with them. But perhaps you’ve been at war for too long that you don’t even know it’s already Christmas.

Suddenly, you hear laughter and singing in the far distance. You and your surviving trench buddies poke your heads slightly above the trench (but not too much, in case – as you’ve learned the hard way – there are snipers). And there, not too far away, you see candlelights, makeshift Christmas decorations, wine, cigarettes, warm food… and British, French, and Germans arm in arm, singing carols to each other.

An impossible sight. You’ve been shooting at these inhuman enemy imbeciles for months – and to make merry with them? Isn’t that treason? And yet. They – your friends and enemies over there – beckon you over. Come, join the fun, there is no war, no battle here, for now.

You still miss your mother, father, lover, siblings, and everyone back home. And chances are you will never see them again (it’s a miracle you lived this long). Your new family, in actuality, is here, on the battlefield, of all places. And so, putting behind your suspicions, nationalist bigotry, and raging war spirit, you decide to jump over your trench and cross over to the other side.

And very soon, instead of firing guns and throwing grenades, you are laughing and singing with your friends and enemies on Christmas. It sure beats killing each other.

AND so, The Christmas truce, as it was called, lasted for several days on some parts of the war front, and I suspect it would have lasted longer had not the commanders forced their troops to return to fighting. During the few days of the Christmas truce (or even just one day at some parts of the war front), soldiers trained to kill or be killed engaged in what to us would have been mundane Christmas activities: singing carols, giving little gifts to each other, even playing football (the normal kind, not the American kind). But to these men, it certainly beat blasting each other’s brains out. And amazingly, despite discouragement and condemnation from the higher-ups, Christmas truces occurred again – several times – on both the Western and Eastern fronts of World War I in succeeding years.

And so, this Christmas, we always hear about Christmas miracles or the true meaning of Christmas: perhaps we’ve heard of some douchey old bourgeoisie capitalist learning how to be nice, or how you shouldn’t commit suicide because people care about you, or how it’s okay to be different and special, or that Santa Claus is real. All nice and all, but nothing special, in my opinion. If we can be nice and friendly to each other on just one day, I’m pretty sure we can be nice and friendly to each other most days of the year anyways.

But the Christmas Truce was a true Christmas miracle. Men decided to be nice and friendly to each other even though they were supposed to kill each other and even though they probably had already killed each other’s friends and relatives. It takes a miracle to turn the other cheek. It’s hard, certainly, but possible.

And so, the Imperial Senate wishes everyone a Merry Christmas/Hanukhah/Kwanzaa, a Joyous Secular Holidays, and a Happy (Gregorian) New Year.

And actually, Santa Claus was real. Saint Nicholas lived in the Byzantine Empire.  How awesome is that?

Further reading: http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/christmastruce.htm

I don’t know if they actually bothered to build snowmen.

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TV Series Review: The Republican Primaries 10/20

Well, at least it’s better than some crappy harem anime (that’s plural) I watched ages ago.

Some of you have probably heard the hit series, The U.S. Presidential Elections, currently in its 57th season. If you haven’t, you can still catch up on new episodes of its currently running first part, called the The Republican Primaries. So far, I’ve been watching a few episodes of The Republican Primaries, and I have to say, I’m actually kind of fascinated by all the drama and plot twists and so forth.

Even though this is the 57th season, the producers and writers did not really attempt to do anything too new, probably in an effort to keep the show’s fanbase – not that I mind. Thus, the story is still the same as it had been for the previous seasons, concerning a big fight between two factions, the Democrats and the Republicans. Basically, a bunch of misfits compete within both factions against each other in a contest of wits, strength, and charisma called the “Primaries,” and the Democrat and Republican champion then goes on to claim the glorious title of President.

Anyways, I’ll rate this season using the same rating method I use for all works of fiction. So far I’ve used this method mostly on anime, but it can work for any medium. In this method, I judge a piece of fiction based on four criteria: character (how well-written are the characters and their dynamics), structure (the plot and internal consistency), atmosphere (ability to invoke emotion/inspiration), and guts (a gut rating of the series). A series can get a maximum of five points for each criterion, with five representing the highest standards in storytelling technique, and zero representing absolute abomination.

Character – 3/5

The 8 heroes of The Republican Primaries are believable and deep characters for the most part. Unfortunately, most of the season seems to be focusing on two of these heroes, Romney (a recurring character from the previous season) and Perry. The dynamic between the two is admittedly interesting, with methodical and “I AM A POLITICIAN” Romney going against fiery cowboy Perry. Still, I would appreciate that the other Republican characters get more screen time other than the once-in-a-way “spotlight character of the episode” episode. We have fiery Bachmann (who surprisingly isn’t considered to be much of a token female), crazy old guy Ron Paul, normal and reasonable (i.e., boring and unassertive) Huntsman, pizza dude Cain, other crazy old guy Gingrinch, and angry-face Santorum. Why is the screenwriter not bringing them out more? And furthermore, what about Obama? Why does he seem to be more of a background character? I don’t even know if he’s a villain, anti-hero, or (in a plot twist) the true hero. Is he planning something?

Ultimately, the characters are good. But there needs to be more interesting interaction other than the Romney vs. Perry dynamic, and the other characters need to be given more screentime. I love good character dynamics and characterization, and while this season has been doing a good job so far, there’s still room for improvement.

Structure – 2/5

I usually don’t care about plot as much as I should. Still, The Republican Primaries doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere much in terms of plot. Sure, as I said above, we have our Romney vs. Perry dynamic, but even that is starting to fade out a bit with the last couple of episodes. There isn’t really much clear conflict – who’s on whose side, who’s against who, and so forth. In some stories it’s good to have lots of uncertainty and confusion, but this isn’t one of them, especially since The U.S. Presidential Elections has always been a series defined by reasonably clear divisions and sides to support and love. However, the plot isn’t terrible, so I’ll just say it does its job, but it could do a lot more. At least everything stays consistent, right?

Atmosphere – 3/5

Atmosphere concerns the general, well, atmosphere of the story – whether it can invoke emotion, or inspiration, or imagination, and so forth. With the possible threat of the 2012 Apocalypse, an Islamo-Socialist America, and worst of all, the downfall of freedom and democracy and American power around the universe, The Republican Primaries has been precisely doing that. But perhaps the real genius of the series is that the audience doesn’t exactly know where the threat is coming from – is it from the inside, or the outside? The many twists also irk the interest of most who’ve seen this, and I can’t disagree. However, I don’t exactly love the atmosphere of Patriotism (and/or lack/manipulation thereof), so I can only say the series does an adequate, even good, job here, but not necessarily a great one.

Gut – 2/5

The Republican Primaries is definitely a well-crafted story, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t really get that heavy of a reaction out of me. My guts simply tell me it could do better.

Conclusion: 10/20

The Republican Primaries, so far, gets a 10/20 in my book. While that looks like an atrocious score, it’s not. 10/20 is somewhat equivalent to “decent” or “average” in my book, so sort of like a C grade. I mean, at least it did better than some other anime abominations. Still, on the other hand, it isn’t evoking the same kind of reactions as, say, stuff like Azumanga Daioh or Samurai Jack did. The story is solid, of course, even great, but it simply doesn’t have the *punch* to it.

I’m still waiting to see what twists the next few episodes will bring, and I wonder what the fans will think. Just as long as there isn’t Romney x Perry yaoi fanfic.

Where's Rick Perry?

Someone's missing, can you figure out who?

The Historical Importance of 9/11 (Or Lack Thereof)

Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

Except that quote might have been misattributed to him, but let’s ignore that.

9/11 was undoubtedly a tragedy by any means, and a sad example that even in the modern day and age, mankind is still capable of, well, terror. Now that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, newspapers, television, and politicians will remind us of how important 9/11 is in a historical context, and how history took a turn for the better or worse – the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the realization that the world will never be the same…

Or is it?

As a student of history, I have to ask myself: was 9/11 actually an important event? Did it define the first decade of the new millennium? Will it have ramifications for decades and centuries to come? In truth, I feel the answer to all of these is a cautious “no.” Or at the least, “not as much as one would think.”

For the people who lost loved ones and/or who were directly affected, 9/11 is undeniably a turning point in their lives, and I won’t argue against that. But for the rest of us? For the world? I don’t feel that history is really controlled by single, prominent events like 9/11, even though we certainly like to think that way. We like to think that World War I was caused solely by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. We like to think that the Roman Empire suddenly collapsed solely because some Germans razed the city in 476 CE.

But history usually doesn’t works that way; I think history follows trends, not single events. For instance, World War I was going to happen, sooner or later (even Bismarck predicted the Balkans would cause a mess). The whole war was the culmination of decades, even centuries, of European competition for power and resources. And as for the Romans, the Empire was already on decline for two hundred years, and Rome wasn’t even the capital anymore (the capital shifted to Ravenna several decades previously). The whole Fall of Rome was the culmination of a trend of barbarian migrations and a failing Roman economy, and it didn’t happen overnight in 476 CE.

Occasionally, of course, you have some really crazy people or groups of people, like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, who totally upset the balance of things and define their era. But that doesn’t happen a lot. And I don’t think Osama bin Laden defined our era, nor did terrorism.

In reality, I think that history since the end of the Cold War has been defined by at least two main trends (there probably are more, but these two are the ones off the top of my head). Firstly, we have the technological boom and increasing globalization. Internet. Computers. The Eurozone (chuckle). E-Commerce. The entire world is connected so much more than it was even one year ago, than it was since 9/11. This has led to some good things – like the spread of knowledge and ideas – and also to some not-as-good things – like how the economic recession affected everybody in the world.

Secondly, we have the overall geopolitical trends. The collapse of the USSR appeared to make the US the dominant power of the world. But there are always rising powers, and even some older ones, waiting in the sidelines. China is the most prominent example, but other important ones include Russia, India, Brazil, and so forth. Furthermore, within the past two decades, it’s been clearly shown that the US doesn’t dominate the world 100%, and not just because it’s too focused on the War on Terror.

Other things have been happening in the previous decade, too – the Middle Eastern revolutions, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the establishment of the Eurozone, the economic recession …

Heck, has anyone noticed that the Republican presidential candidates don’t talk too much about the War on Terror? It’s all about the economy. 9/11? Yes, it’s sad, we say, but we’re more worried about our jobs and income right now. And that’s how Stalin’s purported quote works: when it’s one person, or something dear to us, or something immediate that we can focus on, it’s a tragedy. But when it’s something far away, or something we can’t exactly grasp, it’s just a statistic. And you can think of history like one very, very big and vague statistic.

Of course 9/11 was a terrible thing. We should remember those who died, and also remember what evils humans are capable of. But it wasn’t the only thing – good or bad – that has happened within this past decade or two. It didn’t define history so sharply. Rarely does history suddenly “change.” It usually slowly morphs from one era to the next. But that’s not all bad.

This will sound a bit corny, but it’s like growing a tree. We have to sow the seeds of prosperity and success for future generations. The seeds won’t become big trees right away – maybe not even in our lifetimes, but if we take care of them right, water them, and give them a supportive environment, they’ll be nice, big trees someday.

Of course, the problem is that everyone disagrees on how to take care of those seeds. And that’s how many conflicts start, from political deadlock to big wars.

But at least we can try. We can turn the seed of 9/11 – of all that has happened in this past decade – into something better for future generations. I’d like a nice tree, literal or symbolic. Not too many trees. A nice, solid, figurative tree in a huge figurative meadow of figurative flowers or something. I hope my grandchildren would appreciate that.