One story that is repeated at this time of year is about the Christmas Eve of 1914. In the trenches of World War I, German and British soldiers had been caught up in the spirit of the season and were having “unofficial ceasefires” for a week before Christmas.
That was not something the British High Command wanted. They feared that such social fraternization would result in a “decreased desire to fight.”
The Germans had Christmas trees and lit candles on the Eve. In the “No Man’s Land” between them, the sound of the Germans singing Stille Nacht (“Silent Night”) was in the air. The British joined in with the English version and lit their own candles.
The story goes that when the song ended, a German soldier called out, “Tomorrow is Christmas; if you don’t fight, we won’t” and when morning came there was no gunfire.
The Germans sent over some beer. The British sent plum pudding. Enemies met in no man’s land, exchanging handshakes and small gifts.
Someone kicked out a soccer ball and a pickup game began.
The truce carried through the Eve and Christmas Day.
It’s a nice story for the holiday season and to take you into the new year. It seems like a hopeful tale that opposing sides can work things out amicably.
But it didn’t really have a happy ending.
By 8:30 a.m. on December 26, the fighting started again. The “War to End All Wars” didn’t end wars.
In this week when our President-elect has suggested that when it comes to nuclear weapons “Let it be an arms race,” I think the lesson here is not about the Christmas truce, but about the commanders who resisted a truce and went right back to the war. Lesson learned? Obviously not.