Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Last "Christmas truce" veteran dies.

Alfred Anderson, believed to have been Scotland's last living World War I veteran as well as the last survivor of the 1914 "Christmas truce" on the Western Front, died yesterday at 109. See The Times and The Scotsman for two very good obituaries. The intriguing "Christmas truce" has been justly celebrated in art and literature as an instance in which the best aspects of human nature prevailed - even if only briefly - over the worst. The death of the truce's last surviving participant is a sad event. More generally, I feel a particular kind of melancholy whenever I hear that the last person who experienced this or that bygone event has passed away. I felt a tinge of this as a kid on hearing that the last veteran of the Spanish-American War had died, and I feel the same way now each time I read a story noting the passing of one of the few remaining participants in "the Great War." When I was a kid, veterans of the First World War were - though far outnumbered by their counterparts in what we now call "the Greatest Generation" - still fairly common. For example, I can recall hearing a spry, nonagenarian WWI vet speak at a school assembly when I was in junior high, and in most cases a group of World War I vets was an indispensable part of any local parade on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Now that veterans of that conflict are harder and harder to come by, it's all the more critical that we take the time to record their stories and recall their role in history. Now that no living person can tell the story of "the Christmas truce" from a participant's perspective, it's all the more crucial that younger generations work to keep alive our consciousness of the event. Retelling the stories of our shared past is part of how we make sense of our present and understand ourselves as human individuals and members of a society. With the passing of Alfred Anderson, we have a tangible reminder of what an important duty storytelling can be. Requiescat in Pace, AMDG.


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