I came across this whilst browsing social media today, and felt it was worth a share.
As we all should know, the 100 year anniversary of the Great War of 1914-1918 begins next year, in 2014. There are a number of plans in place to help
modern people to honor the fallen, and the focus of the article I'll quote in a moment shows the basic thread of what is intended.
Many of you will have heard about the famous Christmas Day football (soccer) match, which took place on the battlefields in Belgium as part of a wider
'Christmas Truce' between German & British troops, and some of the French troops also, in 1914. They would sing Christmas carols, and occasionally
go out into No-Man's Land between the trenches, not with loaded rifles, but with packages containing food & trinkets to offer as Christmas gifts to
the opposing troops. These events deeply affected all concerned, and have inspired generations who have since learned of them - they were a triumph
for the common decency of Humanity; a triumph of brotherhood, even in the face of the evils that constituted the circumstance in which they were all
embroiled, through no fault of their own.
WIKIPEDIA - Christmas Truce
The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during
World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between
their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured
into "no man's land", where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in
carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.
The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous; in some
regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The
following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914;
this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternisation. In 1916, after the
unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas use, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the
other side as less than human, and no more Christmas truces were sought.
The Christmas Truce was immortalised by the games of football that were played between the troops & officers of opposing armies, and deservedly, the
events have been retained in the collective racial memories of the countries involved - a beacon of hope in the face of darkness. Sadly, after the
unofficial ceasefires were quelled, these same men who had laughed and joked around, playing games & swapping gifts, were once again compelled to turn
weapons upon each other, and the bloodshed continued for another four years. Millions died in the Great War, including 956,000 British soldiers.
Considering that our current Armed Forces here in the UK will total only 85,000 in a few years time, it is literally incredible to think of the number
of persons directly affected by the loss of life - not just in the UK, but all across Europe, and even beyond (many commonwealth soldiers also died -
250,000 died whilst fighting under the UK banner..)
Amidst the terrors of that war that we should never forget, the Christmas Truce, and particularly the idea of the games of football, have been
selected as a focal point for the centenary memorials starting next year across Europe. The controversy comes, when we consider that the persons
electing the issues to be highlighted in the memorials, have determined that the political machinations - the actions & decisions of the politicians,
who never went to war, and who were least affected by the bloodshed - are to be more or less ignored, in favour of the 'feel-good' factor of what
were essentially minor aspects of the conflict, such as the Christmas Truce.
I agree wholeheartedly that the Christmas Truce is something we should remember, and call to mind as a foundation of Hope, when faced with the awful
realities of two sides opposing each other to the death, for no reason other than political ambition. However, it is quite clear that we should NEVER
forget the deeper realities behind the enacting of the wider conflict. We should not be afraid to look back and criticise the actions & decisions of
those who caused the war, who caused so much loss of life, so much terror & pain.
We should force ourselves to look, so as never to repeat their mistakes.
Sadly, the seeming focus for the Great War memorials is going to be upon 'lesser' (though much nicer) aspects, and there seems almost to be a
willful 'sweeping under the carpet' of the political backdrop. Here's a summary of what a former British Defence Chief (Lord Guthrie) thought
about it all:
"It was a totally unnecessary war. We slid into it unnecessarily. There were horrifying casualties. It was not the soldiers' fault, it was
The way Europe was "carved up" in the treaty of Versailles at end of war was "disgraceful", he added.
There will be arguments, and it will be interesting to see where the plans for the centenary end up, in terms of the global focus - hopefully we'll
see a resurgence in contemplation of the mechanics of the conflict. It was an utterly pointless war, and stands as a testimony to the evils that
powerful men can bring upon their fellows, through selfish indulgence & prideful egoism.
GUARDIAN ARTICLE, source..