What We Can Learn from the Christmas Truce of 1914

The first World War is rightly remembered as a terrible conflict that introduced the world to the horrors of mechanized warfare. It brought many new technologies to the battlefield that would go on to revolutionize the way wars would be fought from then on. Tanks, airplanes, machine guns, and chemical weapons all made their debut in The Great War and would go on to shape the 20th century as the bloodiest in human history. The war claimed the lives of 20 million (20,000,000) men, and those that returned from the front bore the scars — physical, mental, and emotional — that would define a generation.

While the war was a harbinger of death and destruction, a curious event happened at the end of the first calendar year of the war. On Christmas Eve 1914 British and German soldiers brought about an unofficial armistice that lasted several days. German soldiers sang carols in their trenches as their British adversaries sang from theirs in response. Wishes for a happy and merry Christmas were exchanged and in the end the two sides met in the middle of no man’s land to shake hands, exchange gifts, and share in the merriment of this most joyous of days.

While the peace would not last, it’s legacy endures and from it we can learn a lot from those men. Their orders were to fight and to kill. They were told the war would be over by Christmas, but it wasn’t. Powerful people in charge of both armies had ordered them to fight and to hate one another without any regard for the lives of those brave men and their families. Today, on Christmas of 2021, I can’t help but remember the events of that fateful day and think we could use a Christmas truce of our very own.

Today, we are not in a foreign theater fighting foreign enemies. We are in our homes, in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our communities. By God’s grace we are not fighting with guns or explosives but with words, narratives, and perspectives. This war is not one of nation states, but one of cultural and political factions. We are driven to hate the other. We are told to destroy our adversaries in order to preserve our side’s vision of the future. Even those of us who seek to get along and be good to our neighbors find ourselves trying to navigate the complex minefield of this culture war until we find ourselves forced to choose a side.

It is a dark time for America; the darkest of my lifetime. Our national cohesion is being tested and our will — both national and individual — is being challenged by revolutionaries and reactionaries. We are being tempted to hate and to do evil by powerful people in charge of our social, cultural, and political institutions. While it is undeniable that there is a growing divide between us (one that might not be reconcilable) we have the power to chose how we respond. Will we respond with anger toward those who are attempting to disrupt and change the things we hold dear? Will we respond with hatred toward people because of their skin color because of their ancestral legacy? To be clear, I am being intentionally vague here. I have no doubt that as you read those last few lines you inferred who I was referring to based on your own biases and presuppositions. The simple fact is that those descriptions can, and do, apply to all of us.

Turn back the clock twenty to thirty years and let’s consider what things used to be like. In the 1990’s there were socio-political differences, and racial tensions were still around in parts of the country, but we recognized the progress that we had made as a society. Most older millennials like myself had similar experiences growing up. Many of us had diverse friendships and interests. We all loved TGIF and Snick which had diverse programming. Some of the most popular shows on TV at the time were The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters, Full House and Friends. We watched SNL and In Living Color. We listened to pop, rock, and rap. Our in-group bias was based on mutual interest rather than race, gender, or political views. We watched and laughed at comedy from guys like Dave Chappelle, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Gabriel Iglesias, Bill Burr, Mitch Hedberg, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Daniel Tosh, and the Sklar Brothers. We all liked them not because they shared our views, but because they were hilarious. They did satire, not virtue signaling.

In the mid-late 2000’s the culture war started to take shape. University grads who had been instructed through a critical lens began deconstructing the culture we shared and the legacy media fed the flames of panic and division to increase their market share (not to mention ad revenue) until we arrived in the place we are today.

I have no hope for the far Left or the far Right. They have been fanning the flames of the culture war for decades and I don’t really see a scenario where they change their minds. They see this culture war as a glorious and necessary conflict to preserve and institute their respective world views. However, my prayer for this Christmas is that we — the collateral damage in this great struggle, and the ones that the thought leaders would think of as useful idiots — would take a moment and follow the example of those men who were bold and courageous enough to go over the top. To cross the desolate fields, stepping over the bodies of fallen comrades, to shake hands and break bread with our enemies. To share gifts with those we have been fighting with, and to and to go against the will of powerful people who have no regard for who or what is destroyed along the way.

My hope, small as it may be, is that we would also have the courage to go beyond what those men did. On December 27, 1914 orders arrived at the front from generals who were angry with their men who dared to show civility to their rivals and kindness to their enemies. They dared to recognize they had more in common with one another than they did with those in charge of their factions; but in the end, the guns were ordered to resume firing, and the rest is history. Let us be bold enough to not simply pause this culture war, but to reject it outright. Let us refuse to fight the war they want us to fight. Let us hold fast to what is right and what is true. We are all created equal, and are all deserving of dignity and respect. Don’t let the culture war profiteers divide you. Stand strong and united against them.

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