was a post I'd put up on Christmas Day four years ago. Out of my
thousands of posts written over the last eight years, it's one of my
personal favorites and I just thought it was worth reposting. Merry
Christmas and happy holidays to all and may today, and every day
thereafter, be marked with joy, love for your fellow man, safety and
hope. While you're at it, please give a thought or two for our troops
who still, amazingly, have to spend a 12th consecutive Xmas in
Afghanistan instead of with their families, with at least one more to
Every Christmas, ever since the invasion of
Iraq, I remind myself of the moving and legendary Christmas truce
between British and German forces that took place in 1914. Actually,
contrary to most any other historical event, rather than being
exaggerated, the truce, singular, is actually downplayed and scaled
down. The cease-fire between opposing sides on Christmas Eve 1914 was
more widespread and longer-lasting, even spawning at least two sequels
in the two succeeding years.
The First World War was
one of the most barbaric ever, the century's first global clash of
nations using mechanized tools of war. Unlike previous wars, dogfights
between pilots in airplanes were common and the strange spectacle of
diesel-powered tanks dipping and rumbling across the cratered terrain of
European battlefields had easily led people to believe that war between
humans had crossed that threshhold into the inhuman.
is why the story of the Christmas truce between enemies during this
same war is all the more remarkable. It's a still-heartening reminder
that, while the technology of war had evolved, the human heart had
remained constant and good will toward one's fellow man had yet to
become a quaint notion.
When German soldiers were
observed decorating their foxholes and barricades and overheard singing
Christmas carols, the British soldiers across No Man's Land had
responded in kind. Soon, soldiers approached eachother, their hands up,
without permission from their officers and a truce was declared.
Presents such as jam, cigars, cigarettes and so forth were exchanged.
Equipment was also exchanged between sides so living conditions could be
improved. The dead left out in No Man's Land were buried and mourned by
Then someone proposed playing a game of
soccer. Actually, several soccer games broke out. The high command of
both sides were outraged this was going on but were powerless to stop it
since many of their lower field officers had happily joined in the
Similar stories began emerging that
this had happened among French and Belgian forces. Perhaps photographs
of loved ones were traded during the truce and whatever little
communication there was between French, Belgian, English and German
troops spoke of simple, common pleasures. As with the current Pope
Benedict, the last, Benedict XV, had earlier that year called for
an end to the bloodshed.
Contrary to popular belief,
these truces lasted longer than Christmas. According to several accounts
by those who were there, the truce actually lasted for the better part
of a week and wouldn't resume until fresh troops would relieve the ones
who'd lain down their arms.
It was a very necessary
reminder to these men that whatever advances had been made in war
technology, the mustard gases and ugly machines that had taken over the
landscape, humans were still humans the world over and fellow Christians
could still find some common ground and celebrate a common holiday,
putting a world war and the unimaginable human devastation on a back
It is impossible to imagine anything like that
happening these days, partly because we are fighting a nebulous enemy
that wears no uniforms, carries no identification cards or dog tags nor
even shares our religion or celebrates our holidays.
the differences in religion don't fully explain the new breed of
barbarity we're seeing in the world today. War has gotten more
impersonal than ever with longer-range weapons, faster and harder tanks
and laser-guided smart bombs yet when it gets down to it, it can still
get quite personal and ugly.
Maybe, as Albert Einstein
said, the fourth world war will be fought with rocks and Mankind will
once again be able to see the whites of eachother's eyes as they try to
kill and maim eachother again. And perhaps that proximity in the absence
of sophisticated war technology will better remind these future enemies
that Christmas and Easter afford irresistible opportunities for them to
recognize and celebrate eachothers' similarties instead of hating them
for their differences.
The truces of 1914-5 were held
in defiance of generals and politicians who had seen no place for the
Christmas spirit in the alien desolation of the battlefields. This
defiance in defense of what is fundamentally and universally human is
something we're seeing all too infrequently these days and may never see