Christmas Eve 1914: World War 1 is well under way. German soldiers in some sectors of the Western Front decorate the areas around their trenches. They then start to sing Christmas carols and the two opposing sides shout wishes at each other. Soon after, an informal cessation of hostilities happens. The men crawl out of their trenches and meet in ‘’No Man’s Land’’, the unclaimed territory between the trenches. They exchange gifts like buttons, tobacco and many kinds of souvenirs. These ‘’meetings’’ continue, in many instances, until New Year’s Day.
It strikes one as odd at the very least, that these men who were fighting and killing each other, day in and day out, found it in their hearts to put aside whatever kept them apart and united briefly, under the most adverse conditions. It was not uncommon for the men to exchange gifts while distant shootings from other trenches were being heard. These soldiers encircled by death forgot just for a second about the hostilities and had one of the most humane moments imaginable. Keep in mind that these men would most likely be killed by each other in the coming days and they knew it.
What lessons are there to be learned and what interpretations can be drawn from this event? There is the theory which supports that man is neither good nor bad, but instead acts accordingly to the situation he finds himself into. Based on that, what does it say about human nature the fact that under the most aggressive state in which man can find himself, war, the soldiers were involved in this act of kindness and generosity?
It, at least, raises great questions on the moral implications of war upon men and what fuels the belligerence of nations toward each other. Is it peoples that clash or the interests of the elites? It’s true that the atmosphere in Europe, before the outbreak of World War 1, was electric. It’s true that the balance of power, between states, was changing and nations were eager for this conflict. It’s true that most men wanted to fight. It is historically proven that people cheered and were ecstatic the day war was declared, propelled by nationalistic and chauvinistic feelings and ideologies.
In spite of these circumstances on the more personal level this hostility is not so evident, under certain conditions. Based on what we’ve said so far, to who are people against in a war? Are they against the peoples of a certain place, the regime, or are they against an abstract idea of a country personified in a vague way as the enemy?
These matters are too great to be exhausted in one article but they can make one reflect on some issues. This truce of the Christmas Eve of 1914 can show people that we have many things in common and possibly that hatred and scepticism are based on not so well thought out dogmas. History can and should be used to draw parallels between our lives and past ones. Perhaps we can start to realize, in these merry days, the things that unite as and try to find ways to solve the problems that divide us.
Merry Christmas Everyone.