better angels find a path across no-man’s land on christmas morning
The winter of 1914 felt like the beginning of the end of the world.
The Western Front stretched five hundred miles from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier, and along its entire length, men murdered other men at industrial scales. After only five months of warfare, a half-million sons of Europe lay dead in the frozen mud.
But as Christmas Day approached, something astonishing happened.
German soldiers sang soft carols behind their barricades… and from their own front-line trenches, just beyond the range of a hand-tossed grenade, Englishmen responded with hymns of their own. Men stood upright on their fire-steps… and lived. Boys from both sides ventured out into no-man’s land, and instead of bullets and bayonet charges, they exchanged chocolate, schnapps, and family photos. They played football between boundaries of barbed wire, with shell holes as goal posts. They clasped hands, and laughed at the monstrous stupidity of war.
For just a few days, the guns fell silent all along the Western Front, and the sons of European mothers stopped killing each other.
High commands on both sides were horrified, and responded with harsh measures. A less enthusiastic Christmas Truce occurred in 1915, and by 1916 two years of bitter trench warfare had crushed such friendly impulses. But for a few days around Christmas 1914, the brotherhood and courage and faith of simple soldiers manifested an oasis of peace amidst the worst man-made disaster in human history.
This Christmas and in the year to come, may we all be as brave as those men were, on those sacred days in 1914.