The Christmas truce of 1914 was something truly miraculous. There, in the midst of a vicious war – really the first modern war, in which air power and advanced gunnery both played a part for the first time – the two sides not only laid down their arms, but they also consorted and celebrated the pause in the senseless interminable slaughter. When it was over, they went back to destroying European civilization, but for a moment there a vision of what peace would be like if people took their fate into their own hands was readily apparent. Yes, we always drag out this example, every Christmas, as a lesson in what might be and should be – but could anything like that legendary truce happen today?
Well, it has happened, and in the most unlikely place imaginable – the wilds of Afghanistan, whose stony landscape has absorbed so much blood that I'm surprised the earth itself hasn't liquefied. As the Washington Post reports:
"A first possible breakthrough in the 17-year Afghan conflict came in June, when a brief cease-fire during a Muslim holiday produced a spontaneous celebration by Afghan troops, civilians and Taliban fighters. The nationwide yearning for peace became palpable."
Unlike the World War I version, however, it looks like something may come of this spontaneous rebellion against a long and futile war:
"Now, in a development that could build on that extraordinary moment, a senior American diplomat and Taliban insurgent officials have reportedly held talks for the first time, meeting in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and agreeing to hold further sessions. According to Taliban officials, they discussed reprising the truce in August."
The US, bypassing the barely functional Afghan "government" — which controls only the territory around Kabul – is negotiating directly with the Taliban, whose leaders are enthusiastic about the talks. While the White House is laconic about the negotiations, the insurgents are more forthcoming: one described the talks as "very positive," and averred that "We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue."
The President, you'll recall, decided to send a few thousand more US troops to Afghanistan with great reluctance, declaring that he'd much rather see them come home: somehow, however, it was supposedly necessary for him to restrain his instincts and surrender to the advice of the military and their attendant pundits. However, it looks like he didn't give up on the possibility of getting out of America's longest war – and, in the end, the people on the ground concurred, providing the impetus for serious negotiations.