A Christmas truce in Vietnam
Wednesday 8 December 1965
No war, or battle's sound/ Was heard the World around,/ The idle spear and shield were high up hung;/ The hooked chariot stood/ Unstain'd with hostile blood. The trumpet spake not to the armed throng.
Such was the first Christmas night, according to Milton. Now that bombs have replaced spears, and helicopters chariots, the Vietcong have taken on the role of the angels, and proclaimed, for twelve hours, peace on earth. It is easy to be cynical about the appeal, and no doubt in part justified. Obviously this is good propaganda, whether or not it is anything in addition.
The last armistice called by the Vietcong, for the Vietnamese festival of Tet in February, was scrupulously observed by them, but was followed immediately by the raids on US installations at Pleiku and elsewhere; and the war moved into a new and more terrible phase. Since then there has been no interruption in the killings ; all the more reason why the US leaders should respond like the shepherds, however dubious the angels.
The call is surely the sort of thing they should be watching for, to seize on. Critics of American policy are constantly being asked what they would do in President Johnson's place, and indeed, so much freedom of choice has been sacrificed over the past few years that there is no easy answer. He can, however, be urged, whenever a new choice does present itself, to take the more constructive course in preference to the more destructive.
If he cannot bring himself to suspend the bombing for an extended experimental period, he could at least contribute his half to a formal truce on Holy Night. That would not make negotiations more remote ; there is just a chance it might bring them nearer. Probably it would not. But some people would be alive on Christmas morning who would otherwise be dead, and that in itself would be justification enough.
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