Exactly 100 years ago today, this Christmas Thursday, there broke out during WW1 a strange peace between German and Allied forces who’d been engaged in bitter trench warfare against each other. Letter written accounts are rampant among rank and file soldiers. In one area, a soldier writes of hearing from across No Man’s Land: “Germans singing Silent Night.” The British began volleying back their English version of the same hymn. This drip of kindness burst into a flood of warm back slapping fellowship in No Man’s Land. A Sainsbury 4 minute video commemorating this event went viral over the web this fall. You may have seen it.
In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Robert Sapolsky penned an article entitled “The Spirit of the 1914 Christmas Truce”. Here’s how it began:
On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. . . Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our 2 men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench. . .
So wrote a British soldier named Frank Richards, referring to the first Christmas of World War I, one hundred years ago this Thursday. Up and down the four hundred-odd miles of trenches on the Western Front, men risked their lives with similar acts, meeting opposing soldiers in “no man’s land.” Wary and unarmed, they made their way out of their trenches, taking steps that, a day earlier, would have guaranteed their death at the hands of sharpshooters and machine gunners a hundred yards away. The relaxation of hostilities spread, and what has come to be called the “Christmas truce” took hold. Soon, soldiers were holding joint burial services for the dead. They began trading goods. British soldiers had been given holiday tins of plum pudding from the king; German soldiers had received pipes with a picture of the crown prince on them; and before long the men were bartering these holiday gee-gaws that celebrated the enemy’s royals. Eventually, soldiers prayed and caroled together, shared dinner, exchanged gifts. Most famously, there were soccer matches at various locations, played with improvised balls. The truce mostly held through Christmas and, in some cases, even to the New Year. It took senior officers’ threats for fighting to resume, and such comprehensive battlefront peacemaking never happened again during the Great War.
Sapolsky then pens thousands of more words psychoanalyzing the soldiers to explain such strange behavior. Suggestions of post traumatic stress, resentment to superiors, and live & let live apathy were offered. But the most obvious explanation is given only by Lindy Reed Shukla as a stray line in the PS comments section:
Lindy Reed Shukla: “Once again, an intellectual fails to realize the most obvious fact, because it is not scientific: Both sides were predominantly Christian, and they considered themselves brothers under God. That’s what drew them together, during the time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. Simple as that, and as loving.”
Isaiah 9:6: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will 1rest don His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
Here’s a sermon preached on this entire theme:
Here’s the link to Sapolsky’s entire article:
Here’s the link to that Sainsbury 4 minute video: