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by William H. Benson

December 20, 2001

     Late in December of 1776 George Washington was desperate.  He needed a winning battle.  His army had dwindled to fewer than 8000 men, and most of them would finish their term of service after the first of the year.  He had earlier written to his brother that “if every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty nearly up.”

     It was then when the Colonists’ cause seemed almost hopeless that Thomas Paine published in the “Pennsylvania Journal” on December 19th, his American Crisis.  In it he argued persuasively that the Americans should seek freedom now.

     “These are the times that try men’s souls:  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.  Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.  What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; — ‘Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.”

     Paine’s words stirred the Americans to not give up.  So on Christmas Eve Washington led his army across the Delaware River to attack the British settled in for the winter at Trenton, New Jersey.  In the battle the Continental forces killed the commanding officer at Trenton, and captured 900 British prisoners.  For Washington and his soldiers the war was not over.

     We are now nearing the Christmas season, and once again we are at war–this time with one of the least powerful nations in the world, whose people in a misdirected, foolish, and suicide mission dared to attack the United States.

     War is a heavy thing.  It carries a sense of urgency.  It represents aggression.  It is emotional.  It indicates that a change is about to happen and that the change will be violent.  Because it breaks and crumbles another nation’s government, it is like a hammer.

      On the other hand, peace is light, easy, casual, and in favor of the status quo.  It represents contentment.  It carries a let-them-be attitude.  It is hopeful and reasonable.  It is often about music, for peace is like a tuning fork.

     Although gender roles have changed, war has historically been a male adventure performed far from home outside in a field or in the woods or on a desert, whereas peace is found at home, close to the fire, with women and children present, and at a table.  (King Arthur supposedly cut off the table’s corners, so that none of the knights thought that he was seated improperly.  All were equal at a round table.)  

     Some people hear the tuning fork.  For example, Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was born on December 25, 1821, and although that organization is today under close media scrutiny for bungling the donations received since September 11th, she created and built an organization that delivers help and comfort to wars’ victims.

     Some only see the hammer in their hand, and they wish to use it against what they perceive are the enemy.  Because they are not listening, they do not hear the tiny pitch that the tuning fork of peace produces when struck.  Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were sadly tuned out.

     At any given moment there walks on Planet Earth at the same time warmongers carrying hammers and peacemakers sounding out tuning forks, and even though those with the hammers hold the power, it is the latter that receive the blessing.  They create the music.  On that first Christmas shepherds reported that they heard angels singing a song with the following lyrics, “Peace on earth.  Goodwill toward men.”  I would think that all those angels sang on key, for they were listening to the same Tuning Fork, and so they could easily match their voices to His pitch.

     The war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda will end, and somebody will finally step forward and take the hammer out of one guy’s hand.  And then somebody else will strike the tuning fork, and peace will reign for a season.