Colombia's government has a Christmas message for FARC rebels. Come home

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: It is supposedly the holiday of peace, but is Christmas peaceful enough to help the government of Columbia in its quest to end decades of civil war? Well, it's produced a Christmas-themed ad, urging rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to call it quits. Here, take a listen to this:

Campaign Ad: Guerrillas. In this Christmas, follow the light that will guide you to your family and freedom. Demobilize! Everything is possible during Christmastime.

Werman: Jose Miguel Sokolof created the ad campaign called Operation Christmas. How'd you come up with this ad? What was the idea behind it?

Jose Miguel Sokolof: Initially, we were contacted by the government and we were asked if we thought we could help demobilize or get guerrillas out of the jungle through communications. And we said of course, we thought we could help. In 2010, we noticed around Christmastime, there was a peak in number of demobilizations, so we talked to the Guerrillas, to the demobilized Guerrillas and we said "Why does this happen?" and they said, "Well, because it's at Christmastime that we feel a little bit more lonely, homesick than we usually do the rest of the year."
And working around that, we have done various efforts over time. We took nine trees located in strategic walking paths that the Guerrilla uses, and we covered them in Christmas lights, and when the Guerrillas passed those trees at night, they were lit up and they said "If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home." So this has evolved, and now this campaign that was released last Friday is called "Mother's Voices". And what we're doing, based on one of the things that the Guerrillas fear about getting back is rejection by their families, and we went and we searched and we looked for Guerrillas's mothers, and they gave us pictures of their children and they gave us their testimony saying we would like to have you back at Christmas. So it's a very sentimental campaign, and it's a way of trying to end this war peacefully, or at least, help it.

Werman: So, I mean the FARC, this group is a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool Marxists. They don't really care about Christmas, at least not on paper. Does that mean that their message is not sticking with their recruits? Their recruits are pretty eager to get out of this organization?

Sokolof: I think ideologically, they say they don't, but we have found out that people are people and that they are human beings, and they come from families. And particularly, the recruiting they do - These people are not as strong ideologically as you would expect. So whoever has doubts, we can try to get them out.

Werman: Jose Miguel, have you ever been to Columbia and seen this campaign up close?

Sokolof: Yeah, actually, I have been deep in the jungle and I have talked to immobilized Guerrillas. And I have listened to their tales and why they were encouraged to get into the Guerrilla and what they felt inside, and how the process was of getting out and of deciding to come out and of really risking their lives because Guerrillas who are caught escaping are killed. It's a very enriching and touching experience to do this.

Werman: There has been some kind of civil conflict in Columbia for the last six decades. Do you believe violence in Columbia is winding down and do you feel like you're playing some part in winning over hearts and minds here?

Sokolof: Yeah, I think so. I think the Guerrilla started for very real reasons. I think it had ideological infiltration, if you will, of the Communist era in the 60s. But I think over time, they have evolved. They have been more involve in drug trafficking. They have kind of left the ideological part behind. And i think most of the problems of the fundamental problems that the Guerrilla tries to solve or tried to solve, the social problems, are slowly but surely getting solved and are not as evident as they could have been 25 or 30 years ago. So there are peace talks going on right now. The Guerrilla declared a unilateral cease-fire two days ago for the next thirty days. So there are very, very encouraging signs, I hope. I haven't seen a single day of peace in my life, but I hope my children will. I hope we can finish this war.

Werman: Jose Miguel Sokolof, Chief Creative Officer at the ad agency Lowe & Partners. Thank you for your time.

Sokolof: Thank you very much.

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is "The World". The great Peter O'Toole has died. You know his work and if you don't, you really should. We're not going to do another homage, but we are going to spend a couple of minutes talking about one of his greatest roles, "Lawrence of Arabia", and how much of the 1962 movie, "Lawrence of Arabia" was fact, and how much was fiction. So, who better to help us to help us answer the questions than our very own history buff, The World's Chris Woolf. So, for those of us like myself, Chris, who haven't seen "Lawrence of Arabia" in a few years, give us a brief reminder of the plot.

Christopher Woolf: Well, very simply it's a biopic of a young British Intelligence Officer in WW1 who inspires and leads revolt among the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks, who at that time ruled much of the Middle East and who made the mistake of siding with the Germans against the Brits in WW1.

Werman: So, what's right with the movie and what's wrong with the movie?

Woolf: I thought that this would be an easy question to answer when I was assigned it at the morning editorial meeting, but then I looked into it and it turns out to be a minefield. There's been this violent debate between scholars and survivors of people portrayed, so this is my passing of all of that debate, so I'm bound to offend some of those people. And then I made another mistake which was to ask for some ideas to research from my nerdy history friends on Facebook and was offered this insight, that actually the movie portrays the early life of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine. Of course, that's just a play on Alec Guinness on being one of the lead characters.

"I think you are another of these desert-loving English. Gordon of Khartoum. No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees. There's nothing in the desert."

Werman: Okay, is that in a galaxy far, far away or is that "Lawrence of Arabia"?

Woolf: That's actually "Lawrence of Arabia". But seriously, there's quite a lot wrong with the movie. Let's start with the sand. David Lean didn't think that the scrubby brown desert of eastern Jordan, where they did a lot of the filming, was quite desert enough for an American audience.

Werman: David Lean, the director.

Woolf: Correct. He wanted golden yellow sand to convince the Hollywood audience. Then the troops - they're portrayed as these kind of undisciplined Bedouin tribesmen and actually, a lot of them were uniformed former prisoners of war that had been captured from the Turks and then as Arabs volunteered for this Nationalist revolt. And then there's the whole portrayal of Arab culture. The film was actually banned in most Arab countries because of that portrayal, and in this clip we're going to play now, it kind of captures that. This is when Lawrence confronts Omar Sharif after he's just his guide.

"Sherif: The well is everything. The Hasimi may not drink at our wells. He knew that. Sa'lam.

Lawrence: Sherif Ali, so long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel..."

Woolf: Then there's the whole debate about the significance of Lawrence's role himself. He was, in fact, only one of several British and French Intelligence officers operating in Arabia, but he was the only one who wrote a hugely self-aggrandizing memoir - the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Plus, he had the help of the US journalist, a guy called Lowell Thomas, who had a wonderful phrase about Lawrence trying to be self effacing but at the same time having a marvelous way of backing into the limelight. And then, one other thing is worth noting, this is one of the few films where not a single woman is credited with a speaking part.

Werman: Wow, interesting.

Woolf: Which is odd, because there was this incredible orientalist called Gertrude Belle who actually had a key role in briefing Lawrence on how to manage the tribes around Aqaba, which is one of the key scenes in the movie, but I guess the name "Gertrude of Arabia" doesn't quite have the same ring.

Werman: Didn't take account for her in the script. There's always going to be debate among historians about the details of these historical narratives, but did "Lawrence of Arabia" get more right than wrong, would you say?

Woolf: I think on balance, yes. It does capture certainly the times and it does capture a lot of the scenes - a lot of even the small scenes are very well researched. There's one where a British medical officer slaps Lawrence around and curses the Arabs as dirty savages when he comes into a hospital that had been run down. That's taken straight from Lawrence's memoir, and the late Peter O'Toole does superficially look like Lawrence, and he certainly captures the characters delusions of grandeur and his troubled soul. It also gets right the kind of British duplicity about promising a great kingdom to Faisal and his family comprising what's now Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. However, the British also promised Palestine to the Zionists, they promised Jerusalem to the Russians, Syria to the French - pretty much anything goes to anyone who would help them, and Lawrence was part of this and knew about that and didn't resign in protest as is kind of suggested in the movie. But overall, pretty well researched, even down to that incredible scene that really struck me as a young fella when I first saw it - the Massacre of the Turkish column at Tafas and people might remember the self sacrifice of that soul Arab warrior who rides into the teeth of the Turkish troops, and let's go out by listening to that.

"Audar: This was Talal's village.

Lawrence: No prisoners! No prisoners!"

Werman: No prisoners, the madness of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia there. That was the world that was for today, with our resident history buff, Christopher Woolf. Thanks so much.

Woolf: You're welcome.