Support the Christmas Truce Troops

Lucy Steigerwald, December 31, 2013
Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

Almost 100 years ago, nearly 100,000 men on the Western Front in Europe stopped fighting the Great War for a while. Some stopped for a few days, some — especially those who began the truce on Boxing Day or later — lasted until the start of 1915. In some places, this friendliness only stopped because the higher-ups got nervous. Some battalions were moved from the front lines with little warning, ostensibly because they had fraternized with the enemy. With the war only a few months old, but not, as had been promised, “over by Christmas” hundreds of thousands of men tried, briefly, to make that so. Had they succeeded, the world might be incomprehensibly different than it is today. It’s likely the second world war would never have been fought. So different would country borders, human lives, and events have been, that it’s sort of pointless to think about it. But it’s difficult not to.

For the last week or so, a few newspapers and magazines — mostly British — have published pieces on the famous, seemingly mythic, but quite true Christmas Truce. Either in celebration of its 99th year, or in a banal effort to update it for modern, troubled times, or just as an excuse for a soccer game,  people still remember it because it’s a powerful,  almost-cinematic story. But they don’t remember it the way we remember “the troops” as an abstract, vaguely positive concept. They don’t remember it as something that could be more than a nice Christmas story.

The brilliant film The Americanization of Emily doesn’t simply satirize war, but it also critiques the way we remember it — through memorials, parades, and war widows who wring their hands. It’s much harder and arguably crueler to go after the well-intentioned mourning the dead like that. But it has a larger purpose. We are told that the soldiers fight for us and for our freedom. They even fight for those of us who are ungrateful. Like Jesus dying for heathens who weren’t interested in his sacrifice, we are guilt-tripped by slogans, flags, and bumper stickers into assuming — at least initially — that a conflict is good by virtue of American participation in it.

And though nobody should condemn individuals mourning, the mass mourning for troops is what must end. When one soldier or another dies in Afghanistan, I didn’t lose a loved one. The only one who lost a loved one is the friends and family of that one soldier. And they may have participated in the war in miniscule. They may have joined up because of limited economic opportunity. They definitely may have meant well and caused relatively little harm. But that is not heroism. And at least for the politicians, war must stop being forgivable simply because you expressed noble virtues when you began it. And thoughtlessly supporting the troops is a nasty, sneaky crack through which more and more forgiveness and moral relativism sneaks through until it doesn’t matter what happened because America means well.

What does that have to do with the truce, now winding down 99 years ago across Western Europe? The men who truced had seen six months of war and thought, that’ll about do. They traded buttons and baubles from their uniforms. They played soccer. They shook hands. Next year, a grand soccer game will be held in Ypres, Belgium, in honor of the truce and where it first began. Hopefully the sports won’t be all that is celebrated.

Every Christmas Eve I toast the truce with some kind of semi-appropriate alcohol — whisky, scotch, or gin. I anachronistically read the war poems of Wilfred Owen and his mentor Siegfried Sassoon. Those two Brits hadn’t yet joined up, but their bitter, antiwar poems fit with the mood. I have no reason to feel the sense of ownership for the truce that I do. My country hadn’t even joined the fight. I have only the faintest knowledge of a great great uncle or two who was in the war somewhere. But if the American fighting men (and women) are supposed to be fighting for us, no matter the conflict or the cause or their actions, why can’t I pick the truce instead? Why can’t I have a piece of it, and a piece of Raoul Wallenberg, and a piece of all the draft dodgers, from the ones who burned their draft cards in protest, to the ones who quietly slinked away to Canada? Why can’t we have holidays and parades for them, those real people who chose to do something besides take the war that was offered them? And why can’t we forget the hazy, pillowy-soft repetition that says the Spanish American War is the Great War, is World War II, is Vietnam, is Iraq. And as long as you joined up, you’re a hero? Because we don’t want to tell grieving families that the war their loved one died in was a mistake? What’s the cost of that mass politeness? Well, it’s Iraqi car bombs that are blurbs, not front page news. And it’s the war in Afghanistan becoming staggeringly unpopular 12 years too late. But maybe, finally,  it’s also how America didn’t go into Syria, even though for a few stomach-twisting weeks, it felt inevitable. It always feels that way.

Wars, once they began, seem like they will never end. But once in a while, a few — or a few thousand men — try to stop them. And there are still soldiers who willingly sign up for war, then turn against it. Support those troops. Remember those troops.




20 Responses to “Support the Christmas Truce Troops”

  1. […] Support the Christmas Truce Troops Why can't we have holidays and parades for them, those real people who chose to do something besides take the war that was offered them? And why can't we forget the hazy, pillowy-soft repetition that says the Spanish American War is the Great War, is … Read more on Antiwar.com (blog) […]

  2. These would be troops I would support. The German, British and French soldiers who temporarily ceased fighting during Christmas 1914 were already sick of the war that started the previous August that had debilitated into stalemate trench warfare and many must have realized the fallacy of the mutual slaughter of their White European brethren. Had the war ended then and there, many things would have been different–in this alternate history, in addition to millions of people not dying, there might not have been a Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, no 'Lusitania' sinking in 1915, the USA certainly would not have become involved, no Versailles Treaty to cripple, bankrupt and humiliate Germany. Also a young Austrian soldier serving in the German Army named Adolf Hitler would have mustered out and probably become an artist or architect instead of going into politics as a result of the Versailles Treaty.

  3. Even if the war ended in 1918 when it did, there might not have been a Second World War if that awful treaty with its war guilt laid at the feet of Germany and the economically devastating "reparations" forced on the German people had not been put into effect. Hard to say, but the zionists and banksters already had their plan for world domination underway prior to 1914 and creating wars are one of their major means toward that end.

  4. " Why can’t we have holidays and parades for them, those real people who chose to do something besides take the war that was offered them?"

    Well we could, I mean holidays I don't know, I don't expect the empire to make a national holiday of "anti-empire day" anytime soon unfortunately. But parades, what is involved? Applying for a city permit for the peace parade or the honor the truce parade? We could.

  5. And now there are those who want to memorialize the survivors. We have developed the same disease that poisoned the Germans, it's called 'militarism'. The cure is still the same …WAR.

  6. Same reason the USA has been doing this since its inception, kicked into high gear since 1945: to install and support governments that keep poor people in their place so they and their resources can be robbed by US international corporations.

  7. Most of the democracies the USA has overthrown (over 30) have been in Latin America. We can look at every single case, as William Blum does in "Rogue State"; they're all the same. The USA is an authoritarian empire with fascist satellites put and kept in place to rob other countries and enrich itself.

  8. Obama is doing this as we speak. No "cold war". The terrorist Obama supported a fascist military coup in Honduras in 2009 to overthrow their democracy and replace it with an authoritarian military dictatorship that has reversed all the social gains won back by the population after decades of US-backed authoritarianism, and Obama's supporting the dictatorship there to this day, in defiance of the whole world. Like all US imperialists, he hates democracy (control by the people). He is democracy's antithesis.

  9. Thanks for the report. Yea I too find myself thinking the U.S. government is STILL fighting a covert war in Columbia, oh good grief. Nothing changes.

  10. Mr. Glaser: Thank you for this totally true article, it would be interesting if the American people would know about this situation, but leave up to the Corporate media to twist things around. Only peaceful nations such as in Scandanavia for example, know and get the accumulative benefits of peace, since is much more interesting to built than to destroy; If true peace would come to Colombia, Colombia it self would go into a cycle of creativity and progress that would perhaps be, much more beneficial to the United States than this bloody war.

  11. The USA has always interfered in the affairs of other nations. It supports Colombia's government because its an enemy o Venezuela and many other Latin American nations. It also kisses Israel's ass like the USA does. It supports Colombia's government to control drug trafficking although that doesn't always work.

  12. Do you feel the same about Japanese "militarism"? Or British or American militarism?

  13. There were Americans in the Canadian expeditionary forces in 1914.
    The northern part of Maine and other new England border states had no defined border stakes and people by horse and by boat and afoot wandered between the towns and small places in both country’s.
    Men had married from US and moved to Canada and at turn of the century there were still many a family ties between old British Tories and new colonials.
    Men wandered where the work was fishing out of New Found land was no different than out of Nantucket, And logging camps fed no matter the accent of Tory amuck Franchise Indian or Yankee clipped words.
    A war got men and boys out into world and with no Indians to kill why not a Krauthammer or two.
    Our Anuck relatives and friends asked us to join and we did.
    I heard this story while a lad allowed by men as to my being a good stout hearted lad. With but one admonition” Never tell story to any but family and close friends and never where a woman’s big ears could hear.
    At the table were two men out of the north that were family and they told the story.
    AS a youth I wanted blood and guts but I heard of courage and honor I never found in 60 years since.
    What Gramps cousin and relative told of was not the jokes and banter of smokes tales of home and shared drinks . Bb part I remember was when the grand uncles told of the Silence.
    After the soccer and even snowball fights and shared food the time grew on with Krauthammer by Canyon by British By C anuck and soon not a word.
    Cleared throat as if too talk but not one word. MATCHes struck to light a cigarette or pipe and cup against bottle silence everywhere for miles was colder than a witches tit said uncle and then a huge Krauthammer slammed both hands down upon his great coat covered with snow a
    nd trench mud and then he stood up and sang Silent night in English and German all joining in.
    Then he made a gesture we in west well know he put out hi s hands to take an anothrr mans bond.
    Then they left and the quiet ended.
    One uncle told a British officer that had pulled his pistol and threatened the first man over the parapet would be shot; Grand Uncle said ” you shoot and you will be the second man dead.
    As for the phrase a” men T war” ; my GRAMPS mom got a letter from her boy on his 15th birthday ; from somewhere in France as he was recuperating of a wound.
    I grew up listening to not war stories but tales of real men doing some of most horrific fighting but they left it behind and out of sight.
    And quietly in thosev pauses between worlds chaos and its quiet times I sat and listened to it with them.

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