Saturday, December 25, 2010

This Day in History: CHRISTMAS DAY TRUCE

Growing up during the Vietnam War, I heard on the radio that the military powers declared a cease fire for Christmas Day. I remember my indignation - if they could stop fighting for one day, why not the rest of the year? Why not end the war altogether?

Recently while reading up on "The Great War", I discovered a precedent for that Christmas Day Truce.  And honestly, this is one of my all time favorite war stories.  (Not that I actually have favorite war stories!)

The following is taken directly from a review of the book SILENT NIGHT at the Barnes and Noble blog.

Here's what happened: on Christmas Eve, at various points along the western front, German soldiers asked their allied counterparts to humor their putting up Tannenbaums, the traditional German candle-lit Christmas tree, along their own lines. At other points, Germans asked the English not to fire during a celebration for a German officer. At others, they sneaked Christmas food into British lines. At still others, allied troops were astonished to hear the Germans singing "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night"). From here, rapprochement proceeded haphazardly and along different lines, but with the common result of an informal armistice across large portions of the front.

By Christmas Day, some parts of No Man's Land saw soccer games between soldiers from both countries.
Men exchanged gifts and souvenirs, discovering the similarities between them. By Boxing Day, men on both sides wanted to stretch the truce to New Year's Day, but staff officers were already working to eliminate these insubordinate eruptions of humanity. Beginning on December 26 and going forward, generals ordered artillery bombardments (controlled by soldiers far behind the line) to interrupt gatherings in No Man's Land, while line inspections led to fired shots that ended the pleasantries. "Be on guard tomorrow," read one French warning sign to the Germans. "A general is coming to visit our position. For reasons of shame and honor, we shall have to fire." (p. 150) Meanwhile, regular troop replacements removed those who'd just bonded with their adversaries, filling the lines with those who had no reason to humanize the man on the other side. Within a few days, the accidental peace was over.
From   In 1915, the bloody conflict of World War I erupted in all its technological fury, and the concept of another Christmas Truce became unthinkable.

I admit there's something in me that's cynical about that sentence. I recognize the reality of the situation but truthfully in some ways I'm still the idealistic teen who believes that we could stop fighting every day - if we chose to.  If we replaced revenge with forgiveness.  If we handed out food instead of armaments. If we learned to speak each other's languages and dared to travel away from our own homes and our self- protective attitudes. 
If we accepted this modest proposal for peace, how many lives could be saved? 

Would the words Silent Night ring more true to people of all faiths?
More info on this book and the historic event is available at the Barnes and Noble blog.  The rest of the story reassures me that the teen ager me was probably right.  Peace is, a after all, a decision.  But someone has to make it.

1 comment:

  1. Funny, I have always thought the same thing. It seemed so strange to have a truce one day and then to be killing one another the next! And to be playing soccer too--well, that's really wierd. Thanks for the post.