Summary: Hope for a better future comes from flashes of the past, proof that we’re capable of better things that we do today. Once such moment was the creation after WWII of a new world order based on law (now ruined by our hands). Another was the truce on Christmas 1914 in the trenches of Europe, a spontaneous movement by the soldiers on both sides. They had the desire for peace, but lacked the will and leadership to make it hold. It can inspire us today.
By December 1914 the stories confidently told in August 1914 became known as lies. The boys would not be home by Christmas. By October the trenches ran from Switzerland to the sea, dashing hopes for victory except through bloody attrition. The complex reasons for fighting became vaporous when examined. Morale sank.
On December 7 Pope Benedict XV called for a “Truce of God”, a halt to fighting during Christmas deeply rooted in western tradition. Leaders on both sides rejected it.
On Christmas Eve the soldiers celebrated in the bitter cold of the crude trenches. Candles were lit and trees along the German trenches. German and British soldiers engaged in a “carol sing-offs”.
In the light of Christmas Day some men bravely emerged from their trenches and entered No Man’s Land to retrieve their wounded and bury their dead comrades. In some place the enemies met, exchanging rations and taking photos. The war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment recorded that their men brought out a ball…
“This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter … The game ended 3-2 for Fritz.”
Some Belgian and French troops joined the truce. Elsewhere, such as at Yser, battles were fought on Christmas. The generals of both sides issued orders for brutal punishment of this behavior, and by New Year’s Day they had regained full control.
These small truces never occurred again. The war ran for another four years with over 8 million dead. New justifications were found for this pointless slaughter, and the blood spilt became reason enough for more killing. But this brief moment of self-organized peace by soldiers of two armies gives hope that humanity can bring itself to throw off the harnesses of our elites by which they drive us to war.
We can do it.
“All Together Now”
Remember boy that your forefathers died
Lost in millions for a country’s pride
They never mention the trenches of Belgium
When they stopped fighting and they were one.
A spirit stronger than war was working that night
December 1914 cold, clear and bright
Countries’ borders were right out of sight
They joined together and decided not to fight.
All together now
All together now
All together now
In no man’s land, together.
The same old story again
All those tears shed in vain
Nothing learnt and nothing gained
Only hope remains.
“A Carol from Flanders”
by Frederick Niven (1878-1944)
In Flanders on the Christmas morn
The trenched foemen lay,
the German and the Briton born,
And it was Christmas Day.
The red sun rose on fields accurst,
The gray fog fled away;
But neither cared to fire the first,
For it was Christmas Day!
They called from each to each across
The hideous disarray,
For terrible has been their loss:
“Oh, this is Christmas Day!”
Their rifles all they set aside,
One impulse to obey;
‘Twas just the men on either side,
Just men — and Christmas Day.
They dug the graves for all their dead
And over them did pray:
And Englishmen and Germans said:
“How strange a Christmas Day!”
Between the trenches then they met,
Shook hands, and e’en did play
At games on which their hearts were set
On happy Christmas Day.
Not all the emperors and kings,
Financiers and they
Who rule us could prevent these things —
For it was Christmas Day.
Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.
For More Information
See Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 (2001).
- A real-life Christmas story: Washington’s Gift to America.
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Marines in WWII.
- Good news for Christmas.