Over the last few weeks I have been listening to a podcast called “Hardcore History” which covers World War I. Being a grandchild of a soldier in World War II and living in Germany for a few years, I know a lot more about the second war than the first. I’d highly recommend the podcast, but let me warn you – it is super long. The host is quite verbose and detailed, but I feel like it adds to the charm.
What I never realized about the first World War was the level of senseless human carnage. This was a war which bridged the gap between the Old World and the Modern era, especially when it came to warfare. Before this war, most battlefronts involved horses, rifles, and bayonets. This war introduced machine guns, massive artillery, tanks, and poison gas. The world had never seen anything like it.
This war introduced what would be known as “trench warfare”. Soldiers on either side would dig long trenches and fortify their positions with barbed wire, booby traps, and machine guns. So any attempt on an offensive move would result in thousands upon thousands of casualties.
This became a war of attrition. In other words, each side simply hoped to kill more men than the other hoping one would eventually succumb. But this never happened. Generals would spend lives like money knowing there would just be more men behind them to take up the cause and give their lives. Many men from all over the world were thrown into what was called the “meat grinder” of trench warfare – never really considering if their sacrifice meant anything more than becoming another statistic.
This was a hellish war. Men were forced to kill, be killed, and literally live in hell while they waited for either of these fates. You can imagine after a while their spirits would break.
Yet in the middle of all of this senseless killing, an oft forgotten, yet powerful story shines out of the darkness – and as we talk about new beginnings this week, I think there are some lessons to be learned.
On Christmas Eve/Christmas Day of 1914, peace made an appearance on the Western Front of the war. Historians disagree on which side this originated (Central Powers or Allies), but a soldier or two started singing Christmas songs. Then more and more men on that side started joining in. The other side took note and started singing back to them. Back and forth they went until a few brave men stuck their heads out of the trenches and walked with white flags towards what was called “No Man’s Land” – the area between the opposing trenches littered with barbed wire, shell holes, and the corpses of dead soldiers.
After a while, both sides put down their guns and met in the middle of the battlefield. They exchanged food, beverages, cigarettes, and any other item of value for a solider in the middle of war. Some accounts talk about soccer matches and other competitive games breaking out between the warring sides while silent machine guns were left unmanned.
Can you imagine “no man’s land” occupied not by bullets, artillery, and corpses, but by life, laughter, and good food and drinks?
How can something like this happen? How can peace erupt over one of the most violent strips of land history has ever known?
Simply put – a choice was made by someone to not cooperate.
While their commanding officers were demanding more bullets and bombs, someone decided to sing a song of peace.
And this song was infectious. The song invited others to lay down their weapons. For a brief moment in time at the beginning of what would be one of the major human catastrophes the world would ever know, peace had a say.
Soon after the men were jerked back into their trenches and commanded to never enter “no man’s land” again without shooting the enemy. Those in power won and war ensued for several more years. Millions upon millions died and the world was never the same.
But, what if peace had won that day? What if instead of taking up the same fight day after day seeing the same results of destruction and death, the soldiers on each side said – “I’m not fighting this war anymore”.
What if someone declared war and no one showed up?
The “Christmas/Christmas Eve Truce” of 1914 was soon forgotten and thrown on the scrap heap of so many other peaceful movements that fell to violence.
Yet as this new year begins, I’m wondering if we could enter it as non compliant combatants. We are asked day after day to take up a side.
We are asked to take a side on –
I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold a strong opinion on any of these matters. But, we are told by those in positions of influence to fight about these things. We are told the only way to advance any of these causes is by battle.
And to tell you the truth, I am sick of it. I am not going to fight. I am laying down my impulse to fight and finding a new way.
This year, let’s find a way to care about these things passionately, but to love people and Jesus even more than these things.
Join us this year in a truce. Let’s find something better to fight for.