Reflection: Christmas Truce 1914

Typically I try not to preach, there are far too many of my friends, acquaintances, etc… and since I claim to be Switzerland more often than not, I keep out of most discussions dealing with politics and religion. But like all things there is typically an exception and this is one of those exceptions.

My family decided to go to a rather late evening mass for Christmas and I went with them, during the priest’s homily he talked about how was a bit of a history buff and proceeded to talk about the Christmas “truce” of 1914 that occurred in the trenches of World War I. You know the one where throughout most of Europe in the trenches of the war, the British and German troops (around Christmas Day) fraternized with one another to the point that there were a few groups that were playing football in “No Man’s Land”.

Being the curious skeptic that I was the moment that I went home I did some research online wondering if this could be true and wouldn’t you know it… it was… There are many articles and websites online like that have given short summaries of what had happened in the trenches.

Some pages claim that this form of chivalry and fraternization is one of the last moments in history to have occurred on such a grand scale. Other sites have claimed that this occurred for week leading up to Christmas Day and quite possibly for a week there after leading into the New Year.

There have been reported cases of the swapping of gifts, singing Christmas caroles, and just some good natured camaraderie. So what happened?

According to the priest late last night the Pope of the time urged the governmental bodies to call for a cease fire for Christmas Day, but the plea fell on deaf ears.

And yet, it was the soldiers, the lowest men on the totem pole who were risking their lives out there for their homelands that eventually followed through with the truce… except when word moved up the ranks that the soldiers were “fraternizing” with the enemy the government officials and higher ranking officers used the threat of force and life in an attempt to prevent other Christmas truces from happening in the future.

But this makes me wonder… had the government officials conceded, if the thirst for blood and the need to defeat one’s opponent wasn’t so prevalent in their minds at the time… if the soldiers were allowed to do as they did for subsequent Christmases thereafter, could the concept of peace that has eluded the world for almost a century thereafter actually come to fruition?

It is an interesting thought that if the government officials and the officers had allowed the concept of a Christmas truce to occur and continued with that tradition, the perhaps the concept of world peace wouldn’t be such a farfetched idea.

Then again power corrupts absolutely… there can be no doubt about that. What is interesting to note is that during the Christmas season of 1915 and 1916 there were moments that the same occurred and the holiday joys were exchanged on a far smaller scale than that of 1914. However, due to the mentality of the higher ups much of what is left of chivalry seems to have dissipated over time.

Anyway just some food for thought… that a lot of the way that society appears to have a bit of a dog-eats-dog mentality seems to stem from the top of the food chain. Then again this reminds me of a favorite passage from Thomas More’s Utopia:

For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.

And it is these same higher ups that wonder why the world is as it is today…

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