Prevailing Peace Even In a Time of War: The Christmas Truce of 1914

Well, for reportedly two weeks starting on Christmas, during one of the bloodiest wars in human history: the trench warfare of WWI. British and German soldiers stopped fighting and had peace. “Never … was I so keenly aware of the insanity of war.” Indeed. It’s one of my favorite stories ever, so I thought I had to make a blog post on it. Check it, British and German troops:


From Reason, if you’re unfamiliar with this event from almost exactly 100 years ago:

The truce was a series of unofficial and widespread cease-fires that extended over two weeks. The truce between mostly British and German troops centered on the Western Front, defined by lines of trenches that stretched across France from the North Sea to the border of Switzerland. The trenches were often close enough for the combatants to exchange shouted words and to smell food their adversaries were cooking.

Life in the trenches consisted of extreme boredom broken by spikes of terror when an attack was launched. Young men left the comparative safety of their own trenches and crossed open ground into “no man’s land” to try to reach the trenches opposite. Even successful attacks racked up huge casualties. The Battle of the Somme in France was waged between July 1 and November 18, 1916, and came to symbolize the cost of trench warfare; more than one million men were killed or wounded. An estimated 12.5 percent of troops on the Western Front died, often from wounds for which antibiotics were not yet available; the casualty rate (both killed and wounded) was estimated at 56 percent. In all, more than 10 million soldiers died in World War I.

It gives me chills to even read that: 10 million dead. From war. Senseless, inane and yes, unnecessary war. It’s beyond tragic and even 100 years later, its legacy still has rippling effects. It’s the most damaging war in human history from that standpoint. But within that chaos, we have this moment of what humanity can be — what it is. That makes me almost well up with tears, man. It’s beautiful.

More from Reason:

Against this backdrop, a remarkable thing happened on December 19, 1914. British Lieutenant Geoffrey Heinekey described it in a letter home to his mother. “Some Germans came out and held up their hands and began to take in some of their wounded and so we ourselves immediately got out of our trenches and began bringing in our wounded also. The Germans then beckoned to us and a lot of us went over and talked to them and they helped us to bury our dead.” Heinekey could not have been alone in concluding, “I must say they [the Germans] seemed extraordinarily fine men.”

And more to the “fine men” the Germans were:

One officer wrote a letter, which was published in the The Daily News on December 30 and one day later in The New York Times. He commented, “The Germans opposite us were awfully decent fellows – Saxons, intelligent, respectable-looking men. I had a quite decent talk with three or four and have two names and addresses in my notebook. … After our talk I really think a lot of our newspaper reports must be horribly exaggerated.”

Juxtaposed to this moment of humanity is the tragic “what if?”:

“Like many other historians, he [Weintraub] 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.”

Gah. War sucks, but peace and humanity still manages to find a way. It always does and always will.



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