In World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing. Soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man's-land, calling out "Merry Christmas" in their enemies' native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer. Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man's land between the lines.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers' threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers' essential humanity endured. -from History.com
Picture above of a cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads "1914, The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce, 1999, 85 Years, Lest We Forget".
Chain Gang 1940 "The light of a clear, cold December day was fading. A soldier in my detachment walked between the two men at the head of my column, forcing them apart, and then walked through the middle cleaving usinto two single lines. On shouted instructions, we picked up the chain with the hand nearest to it. The chain was brand new, still coated with some dark, sticky anti-rust compound, and its coldness struck the hand almost like a burn. Then, fifty men a side, we were handcuffed to the chain by one wrist. Like some great slowly walking reptile, the long procession began to move. There was just enough room between the man ahead and the man behind for me to step out without hindrance. We were hit by three tearing blizzards in the course of our march. Somehow someone learned during the second week of the march that it was December 24. The news went up and down the long, struggling line like the leaping flames of a forest fire. It's Christmas Eve, went the whisper from man to man. Away back behind us there was suddenly a thin, wavering sound. It was odd and startling. It grew in volume and swept toward us. It was the sound of men singing, men singing with increasing power in the wastes of the Siberian wilderness. I thought the soldiers would have been ordered to shout us down, but the mounting song reached us unchecked and engulfed us. Everybody who had a voice left was joining in. A marching choir of nearly five thousand male voices drowning their despair in a song of praise for the Child who was born on Christmas Day. The song was "Holy Night", and those who did not sing it in Polish sang it in the language in which they had learnt it as children. Then a few voices started the Polish Christmas carol, "Jesu's Lullaby", and I choked on it and fell silent. And half-way through it, others broke down and wept quietly. The Lullaby died abruptly and there was no more singing. Our hearts were full to bursting with the bitter-sweet memories of other Christmases... Christmas Day came and went like any other of the dreary succession of marching days. We walked into our second blizzard and walked out of it. Grechinen and I between us supported the man directly ahead of him for hours during this second storm. He died barely half-an-hour before we reached the night's stopping place." -from The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz
"Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for peace on earth." -Ronald Reagan, Second Inaugural Address, 1985
The following prayer and meditation is from the book "No Atheists In Foxholes" by Chaplain Patrick McLaughlin, CDR, USN
"God of all history, we have studied history, and there has never been lasting peace. The history of the Bible is littered with battles and death, with the conquerors and the vanquished. Those believing in the myth of redemptive violence killed even your own Son, Jesus Christ! Will we ever know peace? Is the ancient prayer for peace among people possible? We know all things are possible for you, O God, but is it possible for humanity? Can we be saved from ourselves? We do not know the answer to these questions, so we have no other choice; we must pray... Amen"
"By the regulations of the Geneva Convention and the long tradition of clerics on the battlefield, military chaplains are non-combatants. I operate within the institutions of the US Navy and the US Marine corps, whose members are trained to kill the enemy. But something pulls rank over the military. I am subject first to the teachings and practices of the holy gospel. In many instances these two sets of guidelines run headlong into each other. As an ordained Christian pastor, I am called on by Christ to "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless them who curse you..." During predeployment training, everyone is given a small card with the rules of engagement guide printed on it. Across the top of the card in bold print appears, "Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself."
"It's not just in battle that I am confronted with this dilemma. While stationed as chaplain at Camp David under President Bush, I am asked to pray for a solution to what appears to be an impending war. There is a sinking feeling that the solution will not come peacefully. Before long we are at war, and I stand at the front of a congregation that includes the president, my commander in chief, who has made the decision to send our troops and nation to war in Iraq. Never before have I faced this great a challenge in ministry. Two and a half years later, I am stationed with marines and sailors in Iraq. Now I will minister to combatants in a war zone.
"During times of peace and especially during times of war, I am called to be a messenger of peace and forgiveness. I am called to pray for those who would try to kill me and those around me. Chaplains are the only ones in military uniform who do not carry weapons. Even doctors are issued sidearms to protect themselves or their patients. Many people outside the military do not realize that the marines and sailors with whom I serve expect and demand that I fill the role of a non-combatant. My greatest challenge is to remain faithful to God when those with whom I serve are on a battlefield, and there are enemies around me who will try to kill me.
"I am a Christian chaplain. I am a non-combatant. If I do not stand for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Iraq, who will?"
My son Benjamin and my daughter Alison