Silent History: A Review/Explanation of An Inspiring & Impacting Book

The following essay was written for a scholarship that I applied to. The prompt was to write on a book that inspired and/or has impacted my interest in studying History. This was not a difficult question because, though there have been many books, essays, and lectures from professors that have been positively influential to me, the foundation of what inspired me to be the Historian-In-The-Making that I declare myself to be, began with this book. Anyone who knows me well, is well aware that all my books are plagued with sticky notes and this book arguably has the most (next to Russell Brand’s autobiography: My Booky Wook) Currently, this book is with a very good friend of mine and I hope he is enjoying it as much as I am. I share this essay with my readers to encourage critical thinking as well as showcase once again my passion, that some will say resembles obsession more than fascination, for History. And is written in bold style to illustrate that it is being written from my actual self and not from my persona. Also, the essay was meant to be 300 words or less and I am proud to say I successfully met that mark so, yeah. I rock! I hope you all enjoy. Please like and subscribe to the blog. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Like Us on Facebook!

As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more and more difficult to remember certain things. Even the most trivial such as, what I had for lunch yesterday, become a challenge when I look back into my mind. However, the book that inspired my passion for history, I will never forget. I can recall it so vividly; where I was, why I was reading it and how much I enjoyed it. The book was entitled: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. The title essentially already gives the plot away already, but I will reiterate nonetheless, that the book is about the ceasefire during World War I on the Western front and in honor of a special holiday, enemy soldiers exchanged gifts instead of bullets.

              I was not an avid reader my first semester of College and to be quite honest, I would skim through books more than actually reading them but there was something about the writing Weintraub utilized that made what some critics would describe as the words just “leaping off the page.” And here it began, my first semester as an Undergraduate Student, assigned to read this book for my Western Civilization class. Before I knew it, I had reached halfway through the book and was in joyful tears by reading how for one brief shining moment, during a time of war and carnage, “there was general handshaking: the dead were buried; cigars, cigarettes, and newspapers were exchanged and a general celebration ensued.” (Weintraub, 68). Though there were some who denounced the Christmas truce such as one familiar name, Adolf Hitler, criticized the Germans for fraternizing with the British enemy by saying, “such a thing should not happen in wartime…Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” (Weintraub, 71)

              Honor and or patriotism was the last thing on the minds of these soldiers however, as one British soldier, Corporal John Ferguson, quoted by Weintraub, about the ceasefire with the Germans, “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.” (Weintraub, 79-80) Eventually the Christmas celebrations as well as “all fraternization with the enemy [was] to cease immediately.” Reading the words of these soldiers, post the ceasefire, gaining these epiphanies of their groundless bloodshed and carrying on with the charade (because they have no other choice) in their own way by feigning the discharges towards their targets or even purposefully “shoot [in]to the air’” (Weintraub, 140) was in a word, thought-provoking. The idea that these soldiers were sent to fight against “the enemy” and were now re-defining who exactly the enemy was. “Both sides were misled by half-truths…Beneath the artificial hatred, each respected the other. Victory, if it came at all, would be long delayed, costly and worthless.” (Weintraub, 119) Reading this made me realize that these soldiers demanded answers to questions they finally began to ask themselves, “why am I really here?” It made me think of what other lies we have been fed in our youth that remain truths that we would potentially “die for” in our adult life.

Avi Shlaim has said that “History is the propaganda of the victors” and his statement is agreeable because when we are children and we learn about history, we are told things in a positive light only to find out later that they are actually horrific. And only when we get older do we learn the actual truth that is the awful side of history. We learn about World War I beginning with a series of mishaps that all could be responsible for the start of the war and the countless casualties that resulted as well as the incendiary feelings that remain, resulting in World War II. All the while, wondering how and why things in our own history, got so bad; and if there was a chance for reconciliation even. And it is here, in this story, that we have a pocket of positivity that not everyone is aware although should be. Here these soldiers are learning that the differences amongst them are scarce; therefore, they have no reason to fight one another. Why are they fighting? When instead, “perhaps a football match, after which both sides went home, might be a better solution.” (Weintraub, 119)

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally written on the 15th of February, 2017 at 1:19 P.M.

Book Cited:

Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: Plume, 2002. Print.

 

 

 

Advertisements

“True” Identity: An Essay on Self-Awareness & Sensitivity

Who are we? We seem to be asked this question a lot and no one knows how to properly answer and no response seems satisfactory. In the past, people would identify themselves through their last names.  “My name is So and So, son of Whatshisface” And with that form of identification, people gained an impression of you, despite their interaction and properly getting to know you is a priori. It seems unorthodox, however simultaneously, it is understandable.

Arranged marriages function in the same way; this person’s father knows this girl or boy’s father and they thought “hey, you probably don’t have a shitty kid, let’s make them get married!” And the other said, “Yeah!” Then they have kids and they live happily ever after.

However, you don’t need to be a scholar in Anthropology to know that every human being is different. Moreover, no law is universally adhered to by individuals and that’s arguably, why we have problems in society. We can place the blame on religion or humans being savage by nature, but either way the only thing we can essentially agree on is that we cannot find anything to agree on.

Immanuel Kant argued how we can ascertain objective validity but because I’m no scholar of Philosophy; plus, Kant uses a special kind of vocabulary that scholars to this day are trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Instead, I will attempt to break the words down as if we were speaking actual English. First, the word: Objective, meaning universally accepted. This is a challenge because everything is arbitrary. Translating the work of philosophers like Kant, for example, is never universally accepted. And the word Valid, put simply just means true. That being said, it will make the following essay more comprehensible.

When we try to attempt and identify ourselves, in terms of contemporary standards, there is a lot to consider. And our need for personal identity is unavoidable. However, the crux of this essay is that we often have to prove our identity because some people are unconvinced of what we identify with because we do not contain 100% of the traits to adhere to that identity. To better clarify, let’s use the example of a father and son. Let’s say the father was a star athlete in his youth, when introduced to his son, if he is not a star athlete as well, but rather, a “nerd”, eyebrows would be raised as to how that was possible? If you don’t believe this, you’re not a superficial person and you should be very proud of yourself. But I’m not referring to you. Not everything is about you, okay? With that, readers hopefully can empathize where I’m going with this and will agree with me when I say, that just because the “nerdy son” of the athletic father does not mean that he is not legitimately his kid. In other words, you can’t identify yourself as something without someone telling you that’s not who you really are.

Which sounds like b.s. because who knows you better than yourself? Your parents? Sure. But, only you know your inner most thoughts. However, there’s people that love to say, “Oh but you’re not a real so and so because you have, do, or believe such and such.” I’ll use myself as an example of identification. Cause none of my friends would allow me to use them as examples. Just kidding! I have no friends.

Just kidding. I didn’t ask them. Because I’m lazy. And that’s why I have no friends.

So, how do I define myself? And this will not be in any particular order. The fact that I have to explain it, will be addressed in subsequent sentences. First, I’m a man. But am I a “real man” How does one define that? What kind of things define a man? Do I like Sports? That’s pretty masculine, right? No, I don’t like sports, so I guess that makes me less of a man? I don’t drive a truck, no; I drive a Hybrid. Guess that’s also a no for me to be a “real man”.  But nonetheless, I am a man. This is who I am. By the way, this is not supposed to be a critique on Trans-Genders because ultimately, what I’m saying is if you are who you say you are, it shouldn’t matter what other people think.

Another way I identify myself as, I’m Muslim. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of all the Islamophobia going around but I sure have noticed it. I’m blessed to say that I haven’t experienced any discrimination first hand (as an adult) but I have constantly had to serve as a spokesman for Islam, which I graciously accept. And as a spokesman, I  I will be posting another article where I expand on this because it is necessary, but in the meantime, I will conclude by stating, I don’t act as an apologist for terrorism caused by psychopaths claiming to do it in the name of Islam. Because of my progressive beliefs, a lot of people will regard me as “not a true Muslim” and that’s because I do not adhere to what they regard as what Muslims truly believe.

It’s like when some people regard African Americans as not “black enough” if they do things or talk a certain way that doesn’t coincide with the stereotypes people have of them. And that’s a shame because who the hell are they to determine what is something and what is not. Simultaneously however, I will sympathize how powerful words are in this day and age, where we should be careful with the words we pick.

A perfect example of this is: Stand-up comic, Jim Norton, notorious for his raunchy style of jokes about him being a shameless albeit honest, womanizer, would self-describe himself as a “pervert”. But in his most recent, 2016 special, Mouthful of Shame,  Norton admits he was wrong to describe himself as such because the type of adultery he would commit would always be consensual, therefore to categorize himself as such would assume that he sleeps with underage girls or is a rapist.

Back to my point, there are people who truly identify with things but they don’t make sense to people. Here’s the thing: they don’t need to make sense to you; they are not YOUR beliefs. It’s not until you empathize and listen to the concerns of theirs, where you understand why the individual believes the way they do. Take Muhammad Ali for instance, when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Ali, a lot of people refused to acknowledge him by his new name. Claiming things like, “that’s the name he was born with, so I’m gonna call him THAT!” But his reason for changing his name was because it was at this time that he embraced Islam and was essentially born-again. African Americans acquired their surnames from their slave-owners, thereby explaining the phrase “that’s my slave name.” And even if you still don’t agree with it in the end, that’s okay too. But at least your grievances are not in ignorance. However, it’d be simple enough just to accept it and let people be happy.

In the end, all I’m trying to say is that there is an inexplicable desire for us to strive for something greater than ourselves and discover who we are and what our purpose in life is. Some turn to religion, careers, or drugs. Don’t do drugs though. And when we discover ourselves, often times we may believe we are something and people have a right to guide us if we are mistaken, like in the case of Jim Norton, but that’s okay because we are humans and we are going to make mistakes. In the end, we’re all just trying to make sense of ourselves and the battle will be less intense if we’re not having to defend ourselves against people who don’t understand and berate us as a result of it. Live and let live, and live and let die.

 

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 13th of June, 2017 at 7:00 P.M.