In the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, attention has returned to the story of a Christmas truce between enemy forces dug into trenches in the European battlefield.
Various stories of the exchange of gifts, carol singing, and even a game of soccer played between the trenches have circulated for decades, highlighting the hope that can be found in our common humanity even in the midst of bitter war. “Peace on earth, goodwill to all,” is the usual message of the stories of the Christmas truce.
The story has even been made into a Christmas commercial for Sainsbury’s, a British supermarket chain.
Some, however, question the romanticizing of any part of a war so horrible that those fighting it thought it would be “the war to end all wars.” According to a CBS report,
it may have happened because the FULL madness of this war hadn’t happened yet. …
At the Imperial War Museum in London, historians like Alan Wakefield say the bitterness and hatred had not yet taken hold.
“The war hadn’t got that sort of, as you say, dirty at that stage,” said Wakefield. “It’s really 1915 that things like poison gas comes along. Zeppelin airships are bombing London, Germans sink the liner Lusitania with civilian casualties. And the propaganda machine hasn’t really fed on that and actually created those sort of hatreds between the two forces.”
And firstworldwar.com describes how
On many parts of the line the Christmas Day truce was initiated through sadder means. Both sides saw the lull as a chance to get into no-man’s land and seek out the bodies of their compatriots and give them a decent burial. Once this was done the opponents would inevitably begin talking to one another.
Das Spiegel has run series on the commemoration of the anniversary throughout this year, commenting on the careful tone of commentary and events in Britain and the Commonwealth, and exploring the difficulties that Germany faces in working out its own commemorations.
A century later, the enduring appeal of the stories of the Christmas truce of 1914, whatever the details of its various incarnations up and down the line, speaks to an appetite in a divided world for respite from war, peace on earth. Unfortunately, the stories of the Great War had only just begun.
Posted by Rosalind Hughes