Monday, December 25, 2006

The Christmas Truce

It was a mass movement that began with songs. German voices strained across No Man’s Land, carrying the words of Stille Nacht to the hearts of war-weary British troops, who knew the song as Silent Night. They began to sing along. Then the soldiers took turns serenading their enemies, one song after another. Brave party crashers crawled across No Man’s Land, carrying not grenades, but bottles of brandy, or jars of marmalade.

Before long, an unofficial truce was established as German, French and British enemies left the trenches to join each other on the battlefield in a novel way. They shook hands and shared cigars. They regarded each other warmly. Almost immediately, it became obvious how unpleasant the party was with all those dead bodies around. So they set about to burying them. Chaplains came out from both sides as they quoted psalms together and sang hymns.

Once the field was clear, it was only natural that they should play football. Rifles were exchanged for a ball, vital organs replaced with a goal, and they battled nation against nation in the truest of true world cups. There was more singing and dancing as soldiers continued fraternizing with their enemies, day after day, until the generals could stand it no longer, and they unanimously decided that this was bad for the war and it must stop at once.

The only problem was: The soldiers didn’t want to end the truce. For once, they were having a good time. Orders to return to battle were issued, but ignored. In some cases, officers aimed their weapons at their own troops and ordered them to begin shooting at their newfound friends. But no shots or artillery would strike human flesh in the aftermath of that impromptu holiday truce.

In the end, troops had to be rotated to the rear so that perfect strangers could once again be counted on to kill each other without remorse. And every Christmas after that, for the remainder of World War I, the generals ordered constant artillery barrage at Christmas to avoid any repeat of this expression of good will.

Fortunately, for the generals, they were able to control this impulse toward cameraderie and the war managed to continue another four years. If it hadn’t been for their perspicacity, the trench warfare might have ended right there and we may never have discovered tanks, anti-aircraft guns and flamethrowers. But the event will forever be remembered as The Christmas Truce.

Have a Merry Druidic Tree-Slaughtering Festival and a Happy Random Change of the Calendar Year!

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