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IPFS News Link • WAR: About that War

The Christmas Truce Of 1914

•, by Gary Kohls

The folly of irrational war-mongering and other unlearned lessons from World War I...

"…the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we're the same" — John McCutcheon

In World War I, as happens to be true in most American wars, the Christian church leadership joined in the patriotic fervor with very un-Christ-like, nationalistic and racial/religious domination stances. Astonishingly, religious leaders on every side of the conflict truly believed that God was on their particular side. And so the pulpits all over Europe, including British, Scottish, French, Belgian, German, Austrian, Hungarian, Russian and Italian reverberated with flag-waving fervor, with clear messages to their doomed warrior-sons that it was their God-given Christian duty to march off to kill the equally brain-washed young Christian soldier enemies, who were also certain that God was on their side.

Five months into the miserable death and destruction of the perpetually dead-locked trench war (featuring the now-infamous mass slaughter via artillery, machine gun and poison gas weaponry), the first Christmas of the war on the Western Front came around.

Christmas was the holiest of Christian holidays on all sides of the war, but in this time of homesickness and having to live in the cold, rain and snow, the first Christmas of the war had special meaning. December 24, 1914 reminded the soldiers of the good food, warm homes and beloved family relationships that they had left behind – and which they now suspected that they might never experience again. The physically exhausted, spiritually-deadened, combat-traumatized soldiers on both sides of No Man's Land desperately sought some respite from the water-logged, rat-infested and now increasingly frozen trenches.

The frontline soldiers on both sides were at the end of their emotional ropes because of the unrelenting artillery barrages against which they were defenseless. If they weren't killed or maimed by the bombings, what would eventually destroy many of the survivors was the "shell-shock" (now known as combat-induced posttraumatic stress disorder – PTSD), with the horrifying nightmares, sleep deprivation, suicidality, depression, hyper-alertness and other mental and neurological distresses. Other common "killers" were the bad food, lice, trench foot, frostbite and gangrenous toes and fingers.