DECEMBER 24, 2010 10:03AM

The Christmas Truce Updated

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    It was 96 years ago tonight, Christmas Eve, that two armies faced each other in hastily dug trenches in the mud of France and Flanders. The opening salvos of the First World War had been fired, and the race to outflank each other had ended in stalemate. What began with an assassination in Sarajevo would not end for four more horrifying years.

    I'm not going to give a history lesson -- no one, including me, ever learns from history's lessons anyway -- but mean to celebrate that, amid the barbed wire and craters of No Man's Land, amid the carnage of perhaps the most ghastly conflict of all time, enemies met under a white flag ... and shook hands in peace.
    I suppose most have heard of the story. The bare facts are that at several spots along the line separating the Germans and British, a spontaneous truce broke out on Christmas Eve. In at least one place, they played football -- soccer -- and elsewhere exchanged cigarettes and alcohol, sang hymns like Silent Night in both languages, looked at each other's photographs.
    It was a magical moment in a world gone mad, and, of course, it didn't take long for chateau generals far from danger to order an end to the fraternization. And those orders were carried out.

    There are times, though, when I wonder what would have happened had the high command been ignored that night. Just suppose, for a moment, that a majority of those huddled in the frozen mud had said: "This is crazy." Just suppose they had really thought about the songs they were singing. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to men. Tidings of comfort and joy. Holy night. Would they have -- could they have -- continued?

    I know, I know, it's naive even to ask the question. No one wanted to end the war, not then. It was far too soon. Millions would have to die before any serious demand for a halt would be heard. From king to kaiser, from padre to politician, from field marshal to foot soldier, all believed God was on their side -- the German Army's belt buckles even said so -- and that right would prevail.

    Did it? The aftershocks from that war are felt still, right around the world. The War to End Wars in reality ended any possibility for peace, maybe forever. Injustices begun then continue, the causes obscured, the solutions insoluble.

    I'm no pacifist -- my grandfather and his brothers were in the Great War, and my father and uncles in the next. I was in the militia in the 1960s, at a time when it wasn't popular, even in a country that wasn't fighting anywhere, that had instead invented the concept of peacekeeping to separate belligerant sides. My ratty old uniform with its corporal's stripes now hangs in the local Legion hall, alongside the military memorabilia of women and men far more deserving, going back almost 200 years to the War of 1812. I'm proud of the connection with them and what they did, however tenuous that connection may be.

    But ... yet ... if there isn't to be a lesson learned from that memorable Christmas Eve, can there not at least be a moral? Maybe it should be in the form of a fable, since it was so clearly a fabulous event. The song John McDermott sings contains the line "at each end of the rifle, we're the same". Surely that's true, whether it's a Kalashnikov or a Colt. Do ideologies really matter so much that we're prepared to ignore that which makes us the same?

    It can't always be about cant -- can it? Can't it be about ... hope?

" 'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore."

-- From "Christmas in the Trenches"
by John McCutcheon
     Merry Christmas, everyone. 

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A repost of the first thing I ever wrote for Open Salon. Please take the time to click on the John McDermott link to see his performance of "Christmas in the Trenches" and watch the re-enactment going on behind him. It'll be worth your time, I promise.
Boaner, what a great post on the eve of Christmas with hundreds of thousands od soldiers in harms way. Merry Christmas my friend!
Merry Christmas my friend!! **Leaves lots of beer**

A fine piece of writing full of memorable and quotable phrases.
Ah, ...but that those orders from 'chateau generals" were not carried out and that "magical moment" prevailed.

On the battlefield or on the street, truth is we are all more the same than different. Thanks for this. When we light our candles tonight, we will take the time to reflect on this. Peace to you & the Redhead.

p.s. Sounds like a 1812 tete to tete is in order ...
I am going to read the link later..
Two cups of hope to go my friend.
Rated with hugs to you and red..
When you write you make be people not only feel the moment but think of the most confusing word in the English language....' if '.
The song is memorable and truly meaningful. Thanks Bo as with the first time this is very nice. older/exasperated M R++++++
Merry Christmas to you and the Mrs B and the family.
I don't recall typing ' be' in there. But it's not suppose to be. o/e
Thank you for this peace.
Gee Boan. two pieces of your written so close together. It must be a recent record dear.
Too bad this cannot seem to spontaneously break out in today's wars over in the middle east. It would be great to see and a wonder in its' own right.
If I had a magic wand to wave and one wish I think peace on this earth and no more wars ever would be the one I wished for.
It is tears here at this simple thought.
Huge hugs to you and yours today....
ScanMan, you got it in one. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Tink! Free Beer! Thank you, my friend.

Yah, SS, they're planning all kinds of stuff around here to commemorate that 1812-14 debacle. And it's true that the differences are so marginal, someone from another planet wouldn't begin to understand what all the fuss is about.

Thanks, Linda. I think you'll enjoy McDermott's performance.

O/E, I rather suspect you know as well as anyone could what price it all exacts. Say hi to Michelle for me and The Redhead, and I trust tomorrow will be a happy one for all.

You're welcome, Zanelle.

With this one, Mission, all I had to do was a quick rewrite. And, yeah, we can always hope, can't we? It's the essence of the season, however one celebrates it.
Hi, BR
I've known about this for a long time.
It was great that you posted this.
Thanks for the rate, Sky.

Bonnie, I figured you'd understand.

Good to see you, XJS. Not a surprise that you'd know this story....
Thank you for sending me to the link I would have missed it. It left me in tears, sad, yet hopeful that someday we will tell those in power ENOUGH we will fight your battles no more!
Merry Christmas to you and yours..
Thought provoking, beautiful writing. I believe hope is everything.

I hope you'll have a peaceful, relaxing Christmas.
I've read this post several times today. Each time, with such respect.
Rated with thanks.
I remember this post. It just makes me mad that we have the capacity to make peace and choose when and when not to use it. I never understood these kinds of truces as a child and still don't.
LL2, the saddest and truest words I can think of were written by Phil Ochs: "It's always the old who lead us to the wars/Always the young who fall./Now look at all we won with a sabre and a gun/And tell me was it worth it all...."

Thank you, Linda. I hope you're enjoying the day as well. And, yes, hope is vital.

Thanks, Scup. That's awfully kind.

Lea, one of my oldest friends on OS, you are so correct: Why would anyone choose warfare over any other alternative? Surely, there's a better way.
Thank you for reposting for I haven't seen this before. What a beautiful song, a voice, a story. And I always wonder: Why war?
You left me with a lump in my throat, my friend. Merry Christmas.
I remember this story, a spot of peace in wartime. I hope it happened just like that; I believe it did. And that we are all the same (flesh, blood, bones) -- and that that's what's so difficult for our soldiers to reconcile when they come home. Peace, peace, peace. I'd give up every present here on out for that.
Fusun, Isaac Asimov once wrote that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent". Pretty much sums up my feelings about why humankind insists on such mayhem.

Same to you, Cap'n Major Mojo. Trust everything is going well.

BV, yeah, why don't we give peace a chance? This singular story is well documented by both sides. It truly was miraculous.
Ironically Washington used Christmas Eve to cross the Delaware and surprise the Brits...
See, that's the thing I like about OS, SC. I get to learn something new almost every day. I didn't know that about Washington.