The Christmas Truce, which occurred primarily between the British and German soldiers along the Western Front in December 1914, is an event the official histories of the "Great War" leave out, and the Orwellian historians hide from the public. Stanley Weintraub has broken through this barrier of silence and written a moving account of this significant event by compiling letters sent home from the front, as well as diaries of the soldiers involved. His book is entitled Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. The book contains many pictures of the actual events showing the opposing forces mixing and celebrating together that first Christmas of the war. This remarkable story begins to unfold, according to Weintraub, on the morning of December 19, 1914:
Weintraub reports that the French and Belgians reacted differently to the war and with more emotion than the British in the beginning. The war was occurring on their land and "The French had lived in an atmosphere of revanche since 1870, when Alsace and Lorraine were seized by the Prussians" in a war declared by the French. (p. 4). The British and German soldiers, however, saw little meaning in the war as to them, and, after all, the British King and the German Kaiser were both grandsons of Queen Victoria. Why should the Germans and British be at war, or hating each other, because a royal couple from Austria were killed by an assassin while they were visiting in Bosnia? However, since August when the war started, hundreds of thousands of soldiers had been killed, wounded or missing by December 1914 (p. xvi).
It is estimated that over eighty thousand young Germans had gone to England before the war to be employed in such jobs as waiters, cooks, and cab drivers and many spoke English very well. It appears that the Germans were the instigators of this move towards a truce. So much interchange had occurred across the lines by the time that Christmas Eve approached that Brigadier General G.T. Forrestier-Walker issued a directive forbidding fraternization:
Later strict orders were issued that any fraternization would result in a court-martial. Most of the seasoned German soldiers had been sent to the Russian front while the youthful and somewhat untrained Germans, who were recruited first, or quickly volunteered, were sent to the Western Front at the beginning of the war. Likewise, in England young men rushed to join in the war for the personal glory they thought they might achieve and many were afraid the war might end before they could get to the front. They had no idea this war would become one of attrition and conscription or that it would set the trend for the whole 20th century, the bloodiest in history which became known as the War and Welfare Century.
As night fell on Christmas Eve the British soldiers noticed the Germans putting up small Christmas trees along with candles at the top of their trenches and many began to shout in English "We no shoot if you no shoot."(p. 25). The firing stopped along the many miles of the trenches and the British began to notice that the Germans were coming out of the trenches toward the British who responded by coming out to meet them. They mixed and mingled in No Man’s Land and soon began to exchange chocolates for cigars and various newspaper accounts of the war which contained the propaganda from their respective homelands. Many of the officers on each side attempted to prevent the event from occurring but the soldiers ignored the risk of a court-martial or of being shot.
Some of the meetings reported in diaries were between Anglo-Saxons and German Saxons and the Germans joked that they should join together and fight the Prussians. The massive amount of fraternization, or maybe just the Christmas spirit, deterred the officers from taking action and many of them began to go out into No Man’s Land and exchange Christmas greetings with their opposing officers. Each side helped bury their dead and remove the wounded so that by Christmas morning there was a large open area about as wide as the size of two football fields separating the opposing trenches. The soldiers emerged again on Christmas morning and began singing Christmas carols, especially "Silent Night." They recited the 23rd Psalm together and played soccer and football. Again, Christmas gifts were exchanged and meals were prepared openly and attended by the opposing forces. Weintraub quotes one soldier’s observation of the event: "Never . . . was I so keenly aware of the insanity of war." (p. 33).
The first official British history of the war came out in 1926 which indicated that the Christmas Truce was a very insignificant matter with only a few people involved. However, Weintraub states:
Beginning with the French Revolution, one of the main ideas coming out of the 19th century, which became dominant at the beginning of the 20th century, was nationalism with unrestrained democracy. In contrast, the ideas which led to the American Revolution were those of a federation of sovereign states joined together under the Constitution which severely limited and separated the powers of the national or central government in order to protect individual liberty. National democracy was restrained by a Bill of Rights. These ideas came into direct conflict with the beginning of the American War Between the States out of which nationalism emerged victorious. A principal idea of nationalism was that the individual owed a duty of self-sacrifice to "The Greater Good" of his nation and that the noblest act a person could do was to give their life for their country during a war, which would, in turn, bring him immortal fame.
Two soldiers, one British and one German, both experienced the horrors of the trench warfare in the Great War and both wrote moving accounts which challenged the idea of the glory of a sacrifice of the individual to the nation in an unnecessary or unjust war. The British soldier, Wilfred Owen, wrote a famous poem before he was killed in the trenches seven days before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. He tells of the horror of the gas warfare which killed many in the trenches and ends with the following lines:
The German soldier was Erich M. Remarque who wrote one of the best anti-war novels of all time, entitled All Quiet On The Western Front, which was later made into an American movie that won the Academy Awards in 1929 as the "Best Movie" of the year. He also attacked the idea of the nobility of dying for your country in a war and he describes the suffering in the trenches:
Thomas Hardy’s poem "The Man He Killed," was published in 1902 and was inspired by the Boer War, but it captures the spirit of the Christmas Truce in 1914:
The last chapter of Weintraub’s book is entitled "What If – ?" This is counterfactual history at its best and he sets out what he believes the rest of the 20th century would have been like if the soldiers had been able to cause the Christmas Truce of 1914 to stop the war at that point. Like many other historians, he believes that with an early end of the war in December of 1914, there probably would have been no Russian Revolution, no Communism, no Lenin, and no Stalin. Furthermore, there would have been no vicious peace imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty, and therefore, no Hitler, no Nazism and no World War II. With the early truce there would have been no entry of America into the European War and America might have had a chance to remain, or return, to being a Republic rather than moving toward World War II, the "Cold" War (Korea and Vietnam), and our present status as the world bully.
Weintraub states that:
Many leaders of the British Empire saw the new nationalistic Germany (since 187071) as a threat to their world trade, especially with Germany’s new navy. The idea that economics played a major role in bringing on the war was confirmed by President Woodrow Wilson after the war in a speech wherein he gave his assessment of the real cause of the war. He was campaigning in St. Louis, Missouri in September of 1919 trying to get the U.S. Senate to approve the Versailles Treaty and he stated:
The great economist, Ludwig von Mises, advocated a separation of the economy from the government as one important solution to war so that business interests could not get government assistance in foreign or domestic markets:
[Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, pp. 284 and 286]
Weintraub alludes to a play by William Douglas Home entitled A Christmas Truce wherein he has characters representing British and German soldiers who just finished a soccer game in No Man’s Land on Christmas day and engaged in a conversation which very well could represent the feelings of the soldiers on that day. The German lieutenant concedes the impossibility of the war ending as the soccer game had just done, with no bad consequences – "Because the Kaiser and the generals and the politicians in my country order us that we fight."
The Great War killed over ten million soldiers and Weintraub states, "Following the final Armistice came an imposed peace in 1919 that created new instabilities ensuring another war," (p. 174). This next war killed more than fifty million people, over half of which were civilians. Weintraub writes:
He concludes his remarkable book with the following:
December 1, 2005
John V. Denson [send him mail] is the editor of two books, The Costs of War and Reassessing the Presidency. In the latter work, he has chapters especially relevant for today, on how Lincoln and FDR lied us into war.
Copyright © 2005 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.