The 1914 Christmas Truce Revisited
The people in the above photograph are all dead. Most of them have been dead for decades, some of them more than likely were dead within a few years or less of the date when this photograph was taken. They are German and British troops on Christmas day, 1914. In the two years since I originally posted this image and below post I am more than ever convinced that people, left to their own devices, will get along just fine. When was the last time the gentle reader went out and tried to kill their neighbours? I suspect that for most if not all readers, the answer is “never.” Yet as I type governments and insurgents around the world are killing people, most of them innocent of any wrongdoing. Organized mass murder is the most popular “sport” on the planet … and some wonder why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet?
In 1914 during the First World War, something remarkable happened. In parts of the front lines on the western front, soldiers on both sides declared an informal and unofficial truce on Christmas Day. After months of bloodshed and horror in the trenches like the world had never known, the protagonists not only laid down their arms, in many cases they fraternized and socialized together. As well they used the opportunity to both safely retrieve the dead from no man’s land, and safely transport the wounded away from the front lines. Leaders on both sides were so moved and shamed by their troops courage in seeking peace with their enemies, that they heeded the Pope’s call for a negotiated end to the war, thus saving countless lives and ending a bloody pointless war less than six months after it had started.
I jest. In actuality, leaders of both sides were horrified by the truce, and went to great lengths to downplay it, deny it, and make sure it never happened again. There were minor outbreaks of peace on subsequent Christmases, but widespread artillery bombardments on Christmas Eves did a pretty good job of discouraging the idea that their opponents were human beings. Such is the evil of war, that the leaders of both sides colluded to continue the slaughter rather than encourage peace.
On this Christmas Day I hope that the memory of this event serves to show us that people want peace, and left to their own devices peace is what they do. Most humans by nature would rather make love than war. It is our leaders, and their lies, madness, stupidity, and greed, that lead us into war. As the world slips further into insanity and yet another terrible world war looms on the horizon, I can only hope that enough people everywhere , of all faiths, choose peace rather than war. We are all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes, Dear God give us the strength to act like it.
The story of the Christmas Truce can be read here, with many links to other resources on this little known chapter in the history of peace. The last known survivor of the Christmas truce died in 2005, his story is here. God rest his soul.
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
Since I wrote the preceding in 2008 I have become an atheist … and have become ever more passionate in my understanding that there is no such thing as a “just” war. Violence is the problem, not the solution. And all too often God is used to justify said violence, something that would bother him immensely if he actually existed. This is my favourite religious reading, and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before: God Angrily Clarifies “Don’t Kill” rule.
25 December 2010
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!
(The above image predates 1923 and is public domain under US copyright law.)