Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Christmas Truce

With news plentiful of inhumanity in warfare, up and down the chain of command, I thought I would share with you a story from a different era, from the archives of HNN, about the "Christmas Truce" during World War I. A story by Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 15, 2002 reads in part:
It's a story that may be difficult for Americans to imagine, but during World War I, peace broke out along the Western Front on Christmas Day in 1914. Soldiers in trenches on both sides of the battle lines sang Christmas songs and eventually put down their weapons, came out of their trenches and exchanged greetings peacefully. ...
Before the Christmas truce, wars in Europe were conducted with, if it's possible, more civility. After the Christmas truce, that all disappeared.
"In the past, particularly in Britain, war was thought of almost like sport. Your enemy was not really an enemy, but an opponent," [historian Patrick] Keefe said. "There was something kind of courtly about it."
During the Christmas truce, before soldiers began kicking around a soccer ball, they worked together to clear bodies from No Man's Land. They celebrated for just one day, then officers directing the war soon imposed a crackdown, threatening severe consequences for any man who fraternized with the enemy.
In addition to trench warfare, World War I introduced machine gun shells, zeppelins and tanks, Keefe said, weapons which allowed soldiers to remain farther apart physically.
"It's more difficult to dehumanize your enemy when you're just across a short little trench from them," Keefe said. "The farther you get from the person you're fighting, the more mechanized and dehumanized the process of warfare becomes."
With the winds of war blowing again, Keefe said, the current state of technology all but rules out a recurrence of the events depicted in "The Christmas Truce."
"I wouldn't bet on it happening in Iraq."