Story: more than written or spoken words strung together, they have a life of their own to inspire, touch our heart, move us with great happiness or fear, teach us, bring us to arms.
Walking for the past few days through villages and towns of the Somme has been emotionally draining. With each step we walked through history visiting Great War grave sites honouring the fallen soldiers. With each step as I looked over the fields I could only imagine the horror of those who had witnessed war on what now seemed a peaceful land.
A gentle cold breeze and bird song belied the immense suffering and tragedy that took place on this earth. With each step I asked ‘why?’. Why had humans commited such great atrocity? Why have we not learned? Why do we continue to commit the sins of our fathers and those before them?
The Power of Story
I came to the conclusion that story had a lot to answer for the attrocities committed by humans. My simplistic interpretation of the cause of World War I was the rise of nationalism coupled with strategic alliances formed between countries. Governments created national pride through the creation of stories and celebration of national heroes. The powder keg moment was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which set off a domino effect where promised national alliances were activated.
Propaganda: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
To win the war both sides created stories painting both sides in a dark light. We no longer saw human beings, more subhuman monsters. War posters from the Allied side depicted Germans as fierce and vicious monsters. Continual bombardment of civilians with lies stirred up national pride to defend King and Country, to defend our women and children from these evil beasts.
One of the most memorable images in my mind of World War 1 was the fraternisation that happened between French, German, and British soldiers in the week leading up to the 25th December 1914. There were unofficial truces along the Western Front where soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to play football with one another, mingle, exchange food and souvenirs, conduct joint burials and prisoner swaps, with several meetings ending in carol-singing. .
Even in war humanity prevailed. Men saw beyond stories to fraternise, to see each other as fellow brothers of humanity.
United In Death
As we paid respect to the dead at the numerous war graves melancholy and sadness at certain moments were tinged with hope. Amongst a war grave to Commonwealth soldiers were German soldiers.
They may have been captured in war and bought to field hospitals, these German soldiers were given the same treatment as Allied soldiers and respect in death.
Seeing these graves of ‘enemy’ soldiers brought home that in death all perceived differences, all stories disappear.
Stories are powerful. They can engage, inspire, galvanise, capture our imagination, move us, mobilise us to fight. They can be incredibly positive but can also manipulate.
Change the Narrative
“Peace may sound simple – one beautiful word – but it requires everything we have, every quality, every strength, every dream, every high ideal.” Yehudi Menuhin
It is time to change the narrative. I had a chat as I was walking with Tim. He talked about Yehudi Menuhin, a classical violinist and peace activist. He spoke about the need to put all our energy in creating and sustaining peace.
We need to foster and create a new narrative of peace.
We need to with every day in our own lives find positive and inspirational stories and share them with others. We need to put pressure on our media to make create ‘news’ that brings back balance promoting love, connection, and peace. We need to find ways daily to bring joy and connection to those around us. It all starts with us. To find peace within and continually work at it.
The pilgrimage we are making from London to Jerusalem is about changing the record. It is about changing the story of the Palestinian conflict and suffering.
With each step and with greater awareness we aim to change the narrative, to create more balance in the media to show people ‘the other side’ of the wall, the other side of the story. To create new stories of connection, of healing, of hope, of peace.