Though we’re a couple days past Christmas, I think this message is worth carrying into the New Year. Reason highlights the soldiers who basically ended WWI for a couple weeks during Christmas 1914. It was in the midst of this truce that one solider wrote, “Never…was I so keenly aware of the insanity of war.” Implicitly recognizing the evils of the political machine in contrast to the basic decency within us all, truce participant Sir H. Kingsley Wood of the British House of Commons commented, “I…came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.” A British lieutenant wrote home about the truce, describing the German soldiers who helped the British bury their dead as “extraordinarily fine men.”
The article explains,
The truce was a series of unofficial and widespread cease-fires that extended over two weeks. The truce between mostly British and German troops centered on the Western Front, defined by lines of trenches that stretched across France from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland. The trenches were often close enough for the combatants to exchange shouted words and to smell food their adversaries were cooking.
One German soldier
reported that hymns and Christmas songs were being sung in both trenches. German troops foraged for Christmas trees that they placed in plain view on the parapets of their trenches. By the time Christmas Eve arrived, so much interaction had occurred between the British and Germans that Brigadier General G.T. Forrestier-Walker had officially forbidden fraternization.
…Some officers threatened to court-martial or even to shoot those who fraternized, but the threats were generally ignored. Other officers mingled with enemies of similar rank. The Germans reportedly led the way, coming out of their trenches and moving unarmed toward the British. Soldiers exchanged chocolates, cigars, and compared news reports. They buried the dead, some of whom had lain for months, with each side often helping the other dig graves. At its height, unofficial ceasefires were estimated to have occurred along half of the British line. As many as 100,000 British and German troops took part. On Christmas morning, the dead had been buried, the wounded retrieved and the “no man’s land” between the trenches was quiet except for the sound of Christmas carols, especially “Silent Night.”
Pressure and threats of disciplinary action from the high ranks began to diminish to fraternization until the truce finally petered out. As the article concludes,
War is against the self-interest of average people who suffer not only from its horrors but also from its political fallout. Those who benefit from both are the ones who threaten to shoot those who lay down their guns: politicians, commanders and warmongers who profit financially. But even the powerful and the elite cannot always extinguish “peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” even in the midst of deadly battle.
May 2015 be a more peaceful year.