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The Christmas Truce of 1914

December 30, 2019

On Christmas morning 105 years ago an unauthorized cease-fire commenced among the soldiers of several nations. The general staffs of the various armies were not made aware of this cessation of hostilities, nor were they happy about. Troops are supposed to shoot each other, after all – not celebrate holidays together.

The most surprising thing about the Christmas Truce of 1914, as it has become known, was that it was initiated by the Germans. The Germans led the Axis powers (the bad guys) against the Allied powers (the good guys) who were led by the United States. The Germans were very aggressive in starting WWI over the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Ferdinand, by a Serbian terrorist. It seems that Germany, a war-like nation, was looking for an excuse to fight and take over more territory.

Here is a much-abbreviated history of the start of the War. Before the War the following alliances were in force:

Russia and Serbia
Germany and Austria-Hungary
France and Russia
Britain and France and Belgium
Japan and Britain

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia got involved to defend Serbia. Germany seeing Russia mobilizing, declared war on Russia. France was then drawn in against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany attacked France through Belgium pulling Britain into war. Then Japan broke its treaty with Britain, entering the war on the side of the Axis powers. Later, Italy and the United States would enter on the side of the Allies.

The Germans liked war. But it seems that they loved Christmas even more. So perhaps it is not so surprising that the Germans initiated the Christmas Truce just after midnight on Christmas morning. At that time the majority of German troops stopped firing their guns and artillery and began to sing Christmas carols. The soldiers of Russia, France, and Britain even reported hearing brass bands joining the Germans in their joy-filled songs.

At dawn broke, many German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English, French or Russian. Initially the Allied troops thought it was some kind of trap, but after seeing that the German troops were unarmed, they too left their trenches and shook hands with the enemy. The soldiers of the warring nations exchanged small presents like cigarettes and plum pudding and sang Christmas carols together. There was even a documented case of troops from opposing armies playing a game of soccer!

This was one of the last recorded instances of the seemingly now-outdated notion of chivalry. Soldiers from all sides were able to recover the bodies of their comrades from “no man’s land.” Prisoner swaps and even joint burial ceremonies took place. Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the unofficial ceasefire along the Western Front, while an unknown number of soldiers of various nationalities participated in the Christmas Truce on the Eastern front.

Understanding the Christmas Truce leads to an obvious question for today. If troops who were killing each other the day before could stop killing to celebrate Christmas, why can’t we as a nation stop killing each other with smears and lies today? Not just for the holidays, but permanently.

I’m not the smartest guy around, and I don’t pretend know the whole truth. But a strong clue presents itself in the record of the Christmas Truce. The top officers were angry that the ceasefire took place, and even disciplined some who led it. These were the ones who were protected in comfortable headquarters usually far from the hostilities.

It was the low-level soldiers and junior officers on the front who led the Truce. These were the guys living in cold muddy trenches, the ones who were killing and being killed every day. They decided to defy their commanders and have just one day of peace that honored the Prince of Peace.

There are terrible men and women who occupy the seats of power in the dismal swamp known as Washington, DC. They constantly whip their troops up into hatred for the opposite political party. Many historians are finally speaking honestly about the divide in our nation. They say that we are more divided today than during the Civil War.

Those on the ground hear their hateful rhetoric (most of it lies) and respond by cursing, attacking and rioting against their perceived “enemies.” As a result, we no longer see each other as Americans, but as Democrats or Republicans, Conservatives or Progressive Liberals.

I wonder what would happen if we puppets defied those who pull our strings? Better yet, get out our Buck knives and cut the strings totally? What good comes out of the two-party system today? I would argue that very little good, if any, comes as a result of our nation being divided along party lines.

Look at the example of Ireland. For years the Catholics and the Protestants fought, bombed and killed each other. But it wasn’t about their religions at all. They identified two differing political philosophies with their religious labels. However, their differences were not over theology or religious belief. They were over political differences, such as whether to remain part of Great Britain or not.

Could that happen here? It’s happening all over the world, so why not? One assassination or riot too many could spark violence that could not be contained. I’m thinking of the man who asked a groundskeeper at a baseball field who was asked if the players were Republicans. When he was assured, they were, he tried to murder the entire Republican Congressional baseball as practiced. If people can decide to kill someone for no other reason than their political affiliation, we have traveled a long way down a very dark road.

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Dr. Tom Barrett is a pastor, teacher, author, conference keynote speaker, professor, certified executive coach, and marketplace minister. His teaching and coaching have blessed both church and business leaders. He has been ordained for over 40 years, and has pastored in seven churches over that time. Today he “pastors pastors” as he oversees ordained and licensed ministers in Florida for his ministerial fellowship.

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