Editorial: The truce, 95 years ago
Man longs for peace but his governments send him to war in the name of causes just and unjust. It seems that every generation must wake up, at some point, to scan the headlines and to read of the latest bloody battle that has bereaved families of combatants on both sides.
Ninety-five years ago, the nations of Europe (the U.S. was not yet in the conflict) tore out the heart of their coming generation in the horrible trench warfare of World War I. Great armies took and gave back and took again small stretches of barren land. There was little progress during month after month of the exceptionally bloody conflict.
In the first year of war, 1914, a candle appeared and familiar carols in another language were heard from the German side. The British troops sang their own carols and soon the two sides met, briefly, in No Man’s Land. The next day they resumed killing each other.
On Christmas Eve 1915, again the British hunkered down in their trenches and the Germans, not far away, in theirs. According to a German report, mutual feelings of good will emerged and before long, men on both sides started to kick around a ball and exchange greetings and souvenirs. The next day, war returned and the body count rose.
These great and spontaneous truces, against all military sense of order, demonstrated to the combatants that beneath the enemy’s strange uniforms and unfamiliar language were human beings carrying the same hopes and fears as those of their own side.
The universal longing for lasting worldwide peace will remain just that, a longing, because governments, nations and tribes will always find reasons to fight. But at Christmas, when people seem nicer to each other, it becomes easier to imagine that humans could act reasonable and call a permanent truce to all the fighting.
In the mid-nineteenth century, as revolutions raged in Europe and sectional strife threatened to sunder the United States, a Unitarian minister named Edmund H. Sears wrote a carol that has come down through the ages with its plea for peace. Then as now, its message is fresh:
"…man, at war with man, hears not
The tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!"
—excerpts from "It came upon the midnight clear"
by E. H. Sears, 1846