25 December 2006

Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men

You may have heard the legend of the 1914 Christmas Truce in the trenches of the First World War.

The legend is not only true, it's factual. It didn't happen everywhere, but along much of the line soldiers spontaneously stopped fighting, sang carols together, and crossed the no mans' land to talk and joke and even exchange gifts and drinks. You might call it Christmas Truces, as it broke out locally in several differnt places.

A BBC article quotes a British soldier.

Just you think, that while you were eating your turkey, etc, I was out talking and shaking hands with the very men I had been trying to kill a few hours before! It was astounding!

Astounding indeed. Depending upon your temperament, you might find your amazement in the killing, the handshaking, or the combination of the two. Is this a heartwarming story or a heartbreaking story? Or both?

You can find quotes from contemporary accounts all over the web, and Operation Plum Puddings is trying to collect the text of all extant soldier's letters about the Truce.

It didn't last, of course. One page with an impressive collection of Truce anecdotes quotes Captain J C Dunn describing the Truce's conclusion where he was.

At 8.30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He [the Germans] put up a sheet with “Thank you” on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again.

The following years, the Truce was not repeated, if for no other reason that the top brass on both sides ordered heavy bombardments of the enemy positions on Christmas Eve each year thereafter. Take from this what lesson you will.

Merry Christmas.

5 comments:

thorn Coyle said...

I always love that story, but, I'm not getting why you used the unreconstructed heading.

Happy Mithrasmas. Sol Invictus!

Jonathan Korman said...

Couldn't resist the irony within irony.

Solstice! Channukah! Christmas! Mithrasmas! Next stop ... Zagmuk!

Kate said...

You forgot Festivus!

batojar said...

Yeah, I have always viewed the Christmas Truce as the "high water mark" of humanity.

Happy Hannumasolstokawaanzagumuk to you all.

Agnieszka said...

In one of the longnow.org lectures, I heard it mentioned that people who compete with each other over a long period of time will eventually naturally grow to cooperate. They used the Christmas truce as an example. To "solve" this natural human tendence to cooperate, the generals began to rotate the troops more regularly so they wouldn't get to know their opponents.