When I was a kid, all hell was breaking loose. Some people remember the 1960s and early 1970s very fondly. I don't. It was a scary time.
My brother was in the Army, calling home very infrequently in the middle of the night from places that I couldn't pronounce like Da Nang, Phu Bai, and numerous little flyspeck villages that dotted the National Geographic map of Vietnam that my parents kept handy for reference.
We ate dinner in front of the nightly news with "Uncle Walter" or Huntley and Brinkley telling us about race riots, body counts, and anti-war protests.
And school was no refuge. My little Southern city was a flashpoint where the federal government had mandated busing for forced desegregation. Almost every day, we had bomb threats or racially motivated fights or protests with angry white parents standing near the bus lot yelling at the black kids.
There was no peace on Earth during those Christmas seasons. Maybe that's why one of my favorite Christmas songs is Simon & Garfunkel's "Seven O'Clock News/Silent Night." If you've never heard it, I'll just give you this description: It's a very reverent rendition of the Christmas hymn underscored by a radio broadcast of the seven o'clock news, complete with war, riots, and all the other turmoil of the mid-'60s.
The simple message of that Simon & Garfunkel performance is there really isn't any peace on Earth. And it struck me the other day that you could do the same recording today and only the sources of the turmoil would have changed.
I'm writing this a week before Thanksgiving, which I consider the beginning of the Christmas season, and once again all hell is breaking loose.
Internationally, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq grind on. Islamist terrorists keep killing people all over the world. British students and French workers continue to stage violent protests. And child soldiers are still murdering and raping thousands in Africa.
Here in the United States, the economy has everyone on edge. And crime remains a great threat to both civilians and law enforcement. Just this week, a guy in Southern California was shot to death just because he tried to stop graffiti vandals from defacing someone else's property. And clear across the country, the chief deputy of the Greene County (Ga.) Sheriff's Department was gunned down in the doorway of his own home by a convicted felon. The bad guy reportedly rang the bell, waited for the deputy to open the door, and shot him. Then he killed himself.
Here on the cusp of the 10th Christmas of the 21st century after the birth of Christ there is no peace on Earth, nor even just peace in America. In fact my girlfriend's 9-year-old daughter has never known a time that her country wasn't at war.
There is no peace on Earth. Maybe the reason there is no peace on Earth is found in how you translate the Bible verse from which we draw the belief that Christmas should be a time of peace. You will find it in Luke 2:14 when the angels visit the shepherds and tell them of the birth of Jesus. In the King James Version the verse reads: "And on Earth peace, goodwill toward men." Later translations alternately read "peace to men who obey the laws of God" or "peace to men of goodwill."
I think that last translation really sums up the state of the world. There's no peace because very few people have goodwill in their hearts. In the immortal words of the "Scrubs" TV show character Dr. Perry Cox, "People are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling."
There is no peace on Earth because so many people are only driven by their own self interest and so many of them are willing to commit acts of violence against other people to get what they want.
There is no peace on Earth, but there are peacekeepers. And that includes police officers, the sheepdog warriors guarding the flock.
There is no peace on Earth this Christmas season, but there are peaceful moments. And the only reason that we have such peaceful moments is because of the sheepdogs.
As George Orwell or Winston Churchill (depending on which scholar you believe) said, "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
This holiday season many of you will work Thanksgiving or Christmas standing ready in the night when you want to be at home with your families. And there will be peace in your jurisdiction, if you can help it.