Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce Of 1914 Kindle Edition
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It is an account of common human decency surfacing in one brief moment in time, in the unfolding savagery of war. It was the men, the ordinary fighting soldiers, not their officers who extemporaneously planned this truce. The first signs and signboards appeared from the German lines, proclaiming that "You no fight, we no fight." And so slowly and almost imperceptibly, the men began to emerge from their mud soaked trenches. They swapped cigarettes and food, helped bury each others dead and even engaged in some games. For that brief moment sanity prevailed, European culture prevailed and the author concludes that "the war restored rules evoking an earlier century and a less complicated world."
The unplanned truce lasted through the whole night and all throughout Christmas day. It worried some officers and Generals that its spirit might spread like wildfire and lead to a cessation of hostilities--and to their relief the violence eventually resumed, and would continue for three more Christmases and end six weeks just shy of a fourth. It is a narrative so refreshingly free of sentiment that it reads like a novel about a remarkable chapter in the history of the First World War, when combatants on both sides laid down their arms and invoked the spirit of their shared religious tradition. Remarkable in its proof that decency isn't far off the surface in every human failing.
On Christmas eve that year hundreds of thousands of British and German soldiers emerged from the frozen trenches of Flanders and came together in no-man's land to celebrate Christmas. It started with the tentative raising of a Christmas tree and caroling from the German lines followed by a similar response from the British. Soon, the soldiers were shaking hands, singing carols together, drinking beer and exchanging souvenirs, including helmets and belt buckles and cigars. A Christmas dinner table was set up between the lines and they even played a game of soccer with the Germans winning 3-2.
This remarkable story was compiled from the letters, diaries and memoires of the soldiers involved. Author Weintraub describes the events as "something that shouldn't have happened but did happen. It was a soldiers' mutiny that bubbled up from the ranks and, for a moment, it stopped the war." Officers on both sides tried to stop the fraternization (a capital offense) but were powerless to halt the makeshift peace for several days. And finally, when the shooting resumed, much of it was intentionally off the mark.
The author asks the pertinent question: "What if the men on both sides had simply refused to take up arms again?" Sadly, that didn't happen so we will never know the answer.