Monday, December 22, 2008

Peace on Earth: Christmas in the Trenches

John McCutcheon: Christmas in the Trenches


When I saw the announcement of this week’s theme, I knew immediately that I had to post this.

1914 was the first year of what we now call World War I. By year’s end, a series of trenches had been dug to mark the battle lines. These were crude affairs which turned to mud and threatened to collapse in bad weather. Horrifying new weapons were being used by men on each other, and each side had a propaganda machine which mostly succeeded in demonizing the enemy.

In spite of all of this, on Christmas Eve, 1914, the enemies who faced each other as mortal foes suddenly, for a brief moment, became simply men again. Recalling their humanity, they put down their weapons, and began first to speak to each other in shouts across no-man’s land, and then to sing Christmas carols. Soon, cautiously, some men from each side began to climb out of their trenches and meet each other. For the remainder of that day, the impromptu truce lasted, and the men were just men, sharing a small slice of time. Soon enough, commanders on both sides learned what had happened, and the men had to become enemies again as the war resumed.

This all sounds like some unbelievable TV Christmas special. But it really happened. And John McCutcheon has captured the story perfectly.

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