By Mary Theroux • Wednesday December 24, 2014 2:35 PM PST •
This Christmas marks the 100th anniversary of the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” created by trench-warfare soldiers of World War I.
All along the European front, soldiers lay down their arms on Christmas day, and took the chance that those on the other side would join them in observing their common holy day:
A German soldier, Karl Aldag, reports that both sides had been heard singing hymns in the trenches. German troops coming into the lines bring Christmas trees. Some men begin to place them on the parapets of the fire trenches.
In today’s era of torture as the new normal, I suspect we regard with special nostalgia images relayed in letters such as this from a front-line British soldier to his mother, of soldiers coming out of their trenches, shaking hands and wishing one another a happy Christmas, holding a joint burial service for their dead, and otherwise marking the day of Christ’s birth:
I went out myself and shook hands with several of their officers and men. From what I gathered most of them would be glad to get home again as we should.
The soldier’s letter resumes on Dec. 27th, reporting that the truce was continuing.
Such warm fuzzies for “the enemy”, of course, undermined the cause of their rulers, and eventually all along the front officers retook charge of the situation, in some cases ordering their soldiers to take up arms or be shot themselves; in one case, a British officer shot a German soldier walking unarmed in no-man’s land, bringing the truce to a bloody end.
And thus the secret to maintaining war: we must never come to know our declared enemies, must never think of them as humans just as we are, loving their families, hoping for home and a better life. Faceless caricatures are so much better for keeping passions pitched.
And thus the secret every good ruler knows: divide and conquer. Portray “them” as different, sub-human, unworthy of the consideration we hold as our due, and certainly ones to whom Christ never intended the Golden Rule to apply.
“Them-ism” is equally effectively applied to our co-nationalists of a different color, socio-economic status, or religion. Keeping us suspicious of one another well serves our political masters, accruing ever-greater power.
How nice it would be if on this 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, and the 2,014th anniversary of the birth of Christ*, we would defy those who call us to hate one another, and pay heed to Him who commanded us to Love one another.
*Yes, yes, I know that Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25th, and probably not in the year we call 0—but it is indeed the date on which we commemorate His birth.