A Timeless Truce Envisioned


One of the most beautifully touching moments in the history of warfare occurred in 1914 during World War One: a “Christmas Truce.” Proposed by Pope Benedict XV earlier in the month, it was flatly rejected by commanders on both sides. The Russians were the first to reject the truce (their Orthodox Church celebrating Christmas on January 7), but soon all sides refused to honor it; the fighting went on.

However, when Christmas Eve arrived, something marvelous occurred. Along an area of the Western Front known as No Man’s Land, and despite their commanders’ refusal, soldiers began singing Christmas carols; ally to ally, then enemy to enemy. Some, according to reports, momentarily laying down their arms and actually crossing over to enemy positions. Foreign Legion officer Phil Rader describes the scene:

We had been in the trenches for twenty consecutive days, before Christmas dawned. For twenty days we had faced that strip of land, forty-five feet wide, between our trench and that of the Germans that terrible no man’s land, dotted with dead bodies, crisscrossed by tangled masses of barbed wire. Thoughtlessly I raised my head, too. Other men did the same. We saw hundreds of German heads appearing. Shouts filled the air. What miracle had happened? Men laughed and cheered. There was Christmas light in our eyes and I know there were Christmas tears in mine. There were smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels. (The Atlanta Constitution)

Sadly, the gunfire and slaughter quickly resumed when the sun rose on Christmas Day.

Over the decades of the last century, the story was told and retold and just as many times forgotten. Some historians also viewing the incident as being somewhat apocryphal, or highly exaggerated, if not entirely fictitious. However, it was a brief if only imaginary moment of peace during a time of madness…two decades before the madness of an even greater world war. Peace on earth would be forever elusive, yet forever sought, even amidst the most horrific moments of human conflict.