Christmas Truce: A Peace To End All War
Above photo: Christmas truce of 1914. From AW Systems.
December 2014 will mark the 100 year anniversary of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
During 2014 VFP National will plan activities to share with chapters to celebrate this memorable moment in history.
During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.
On Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.
During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destroy the Christmas spirit.
Courtesy of History website
Why Is VFP Involved?
Who better than veterans who work for peace to tell the story of these soldiers’ celebration of peace in the midst of war? Our society needs to hear this story that peace is possible. Use the great resources listed in the sidebar to reach out in a new way to new and old allies.
How VFP Members Carry Out the Concept of the Christmas Truce
Extending the hand of friendship to former adversaries in war has long been part of VFP.
- Two Walk the Golden Road tells the story of Woody Powell’s friendship with a Chinese man who had been a soldier fighting with North Korea when Woody was a soldier in South Korea
- Members of the Viet Namese Chapter of VFP are active healing the physical, emotional and ecological wounds created by the “American War”.
- Veterans Peace Team delegation to the West Bank in Nov 2013 to stand in solidarity with Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation and to the encroaching settlements on what remains of Palestinian land.
- Ellen Barfield, VFP representative, attended the first public event of Combatants for Peace in 2006.
Veterans for Peace member Doug Rawlings shared this letter with us:
“We might also learn something from the following statement written by the WWI veteran poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was committed to an insane asylum for his resistance to the war.”
FINISHED WITH THE WAR A SOLDIER’S DECLARATION
I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority. Because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.
—— Second-Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon