By Joseph Walter
The cartoons featured are all Christmas-y and fun, featuring things like the toys left by Santa coming to life and causing trouble during the night, or a cat pretending to be Santa Claus so he can gobble up a family of mice. But then there's "Peace on Earth," which closes the collection.
Unlike the others, this is a poignant, even chilling reminder of what awaits humanity should we continue on our path towards self-destruction, along with the hope for a new beginning that awaits us each Christmas.
Without further ado, let's unwrap "Peace on Earth" and get started.
While I'll still summarize the film after the "Read More" break, if you have never watched it before, feel free to do so below:
An old squirrel, played by the famous Mel Blanc, walks by, echoing the sentiment of the song, and goes to visit his grandchildren. After a slapstick moment of the poor oldie sitting on some pins, he calms himself by saying "peace on earth, good will to men."
"What are men, Grandpa?" the youngsters ask, to which Grandpa responds by saying "there ain't no more men in the world."
A distressing drumbeat starts to play, and the elder squirrel goes on to describe what he remembers of man: "They wore great big iron pots on their heads, walked on their hand legs... their eyes flashed, and they had tremendous big snouts that curled down and fastened onto their stomachs."
Does that sound like how you'd describe the human race? Of course it does!
Grandpa goes on, expressing his confusion at our species. As the warm homestead fades into scene of marching soldiers and burnt out cities, he goes on about how we were the most ornery, fight-seeking race on the earth. When we ran out of things to argue about, the most petty of feuds were settled with bloodshed: The meat-eaters vs. the vegetarians, for example. But one day, the fighting was different. How we fought and fought and fought, with bombs, planes, machine-guns, tanks and more until there were just two men left. Two soldiers are knee-deep in thick mud, scorched earth and obliterated battlements around them. One takes aim and shoots, wounding the other. Struggling to remain conscious, the wounded one fires back, killing his adversary, but then succumbing to his wounds, sinking into the mud.
"And that was the end of the last man on Earth."
They take the armor, helmets and dilapidated war machines of man and turn them into little cities and towns.
The scene fades back to Grandpa with his now sleeping grandchildren, happily and gratefully finishing his story as to why their society says good will to men and peace on Earth.
I mention those details because it only goes to show that what Grandpa Squirrel said about us (and what confused him so) was, and is, true. We are a species that loves to fight each other and destroy ourselves. While wars can be justified, the lust for destruction is never fully satiated. It's as if our destiny is to continually indulge in death until we no longer can. Even worse, Grandpa's words are eerily prophetic, detailing how after our major gripes came to an end, nearly meaningless subjects became an excuse to fight. We see this today with the "War on Christmas" red cup nonsense, questions of "whose god is the real god," or the pointless squabbling of opposing political parties, among other, equally valueless subjects. Aside from actively arguing about things, we also tend to have a nonchalant attitude towards other self-destructive cataclysms, such as climate change, or the related, inevitable energy crisis. No matter what we do, we seem to be in a downward spiral to oblivion.
When put into perspective, the fate of man that is illustrated in "Peace on Earth" doesn't seem that absurd, nor does it seem that far off.
But it isn't all fire and brimstone. This fate can be averted, and easily: We need to work together for the greater good, not personal ideologies. As that "mighty good book of rules" says, "love thy neighbor as thyself." It's not a hard concept, and one we can hopefully grasp in the near future. And also from that same particular rulebook, why not do what they animals did and "rebuild the old wastes?" There's still work to be done, but we're already making great strides with renewable energy and rebuilding war-torn areas.
It's Christmas Eve, and soon it will be a new year. Let's take everything that means, from the idea of Jesus being sent here to save us to the fresh, clean slate, and do whatever we can to be more like the critters in the film rather than the steel-headed, shiny-eyed, long-snouted "men" they feared us as.
Lastly, to sum it all up, the 1955 remake of "Peace on Earth," called "Good Will to Men," concludes with this:
"Love thy neighbor as thyself. On these words depend the future of us all."
Merry Christmas, everyone. Peace on Earth, good will to men.