A Brief Reflection on the Christmas Truce of 1914
By Ken K. Gourdin
Reportedly, during the Christmas season of 1914, while World War I was underway, groups of opposing forces at various points along the lines of battle entered into a sort of tacit “gentleman’s agreement” (my phrase) that there would be an informal cessation of hostilities. Reportedly, small gifts (many from soldiers’ rations) were exchanged, and the men sang Christmas carols to each other in their native language across the lines and wished one another “Merry Christmas” in the tongues of their once-and-future adversaries.
Whether the so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 was unique or not; whether it was widespread or localized; whether it was long-lasting or short-lived; whether a friendly soccer match occurred between men on opposing sides or not, the Christmas-time cessation of hostilities does put the lie to the notion that (because of evolutionary forces or for some other cause) humanity defaults to warfare and to lesser forms of conflict to settle differences—whether such differences be large or small.
To be sure, one of the reasons what the Book of Mormon’s King Benjamin called “the natural man” is “an enemy to God” is because of how such a man chooses to settle conflicts and disagreements. Thus, he said, the antidote to “the natural man” (and, by extension, the antidote to his propensity for conflict) is to “yield[ ] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,” and to “put[ ] off the natural man,” to “becom[e] a saint through the atonement of Christ,” and to “becom[e] as a little child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” See Mosiah 3:19 in the Book of Mormon.
Ezra Taft Benson, formerly President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pointed out that unrighteous pride can have deleterious and devastating consequences to larger groups, as well as to individuals. He said, “The scriptures abound with evidences of the severe consequences of the sin of pride to individuals, groups, cities, and nations. ‘Pride goeth before destruction.’ (Prov. 16:18.) It destroyed the Nephite nation and the city of Sodom. (See Moro. 8:27; Ezek. 16:49–50.)” Thus, it follows that just as unrighteous pride may lead to war, which, in turn, may lead to destruction, so humility may lead to peace, which may lead to the preservation of “individuals, groups, cities, and nations.”
Whatever the case regarding the reported Christmas “truce” of 1914, given the fact that it occurred during this time of year when so much of the world pauses to reflect on the gifts given to humanity by Jesus of Nazareth, it does illustrate the point that men, groups, cities, and nations may, indeed, have “peace on earth, goodwill to men” if they choose them, and then if they act according to that choice.
I’ve always liked Lloyd Newell’s sign-off at the end of every broadcast of Music and The Spoken Word, the nation’s longest-running, uninterrupted radio and television broadcast which features America’s Choir, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. At the end of every episode, he says, “May peace be with you, this day and always.” We should remember that, while favorable circumstances this time of year can do much to make such peace possible, we can have true peace regardless of circumstance. Indeed, may such peace be with us all—during this Season of Peace which is dedicated to celebrating the life of the Prince of Peace, and always.
Update, December 18, 2014: I thought this was interesting:
Update, December 24, 2014: I thought this was interesting, and, with a caveat, I agree with the professor’s overall point that what unites us should be stronger than what divides us, especially at this time of year (but, indeed, all year round). That is to say, I agree with his overall point, as long as he does not define such terms as “divisive rhetoric” as, “opinion(s) with which I disagree.” For my part, I do have strong opinions about many things, but I also try to recognize that if two people are of exactly the same opinion on absolutely everything, one of them is unnecessary. I certainly don’t think you’re unnecessary: