On Christmas day, the Mises Institute ran an excerpt from John Denson’s book called A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt. This particular excerpt details the “Christmas Truce” that happened in December 1914 during World War I.
Many people do not know this story, where opposing “enemies” came out of the trenches during Christmas time. Some peace briefly broke out during a horrifically bloody war.
Soldiers who had been fighting each other came out to rescue their wounded and bury their dead. Some of the soldiers ended up talking to each other, and even played soccer games and exchanged items. The British and German soldiers found out they had more in common with each other than they did with their commanders.
There is a movie called Joyeux Noel that is based on this true story. There are subtitles (just as a warning), but you really don’t even think about them much, as the movie is captivating.
It really shows the absurdity of war. It is just silly games that result in pain, suffering, and a massive loss of life. There really are no winners in war, except perhaps for a few that aren’t actually fighting in them.
I haven’t always been fervently anti-war as I am now, but even as a child I thought it was silly how soldiers would stand in lines and shoot at each other in the old days. (Could they just play paintball and agree that the winner gets to take the land, or whatever is at stake?)
It is too bad that the Christmas spirit were not alive during the entire year, without all of the stresses related to the holiday season. This is far from universally true, but many people seem more patient and friendly during Christmas. There was obviously some spirit that took over in 1914 in parts of Europe where soldiers refused to fight over a short period of time.
There was one thing that struck me reading this excerpt. In particular, it was Denson quoting a section from Stanley Weintraub’s book entitled Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. Weintraub quotes a British Cabinet Minister in 1930 who had fought during World War I. He stated the following:
“The fact is that we did it, and I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired. For a fortnight the truce went on. We were on the most friendly terms, and it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary for us to start trying to shoot one another again.”
It is likely true that the war never would have continued if the soldiers had been left to themselves. In fact, you could say that the war never would have started. It is both ridiculous and sad to think that tens of millions of people died, and it was all triggered over one assassination. Perhaps this is an overly simplistic version of the story, but it does put it into perspective.
The one part of the above quote that I believe is most relevant is when he said, “it was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary for us to start trying to shoot one another again.” This is true and false at the same time.
It is the fact that the soldiers allowed themselves to be controlled that the war continued. You can’t say that they were actually being controlled though. They were all out there with guns, and the soldiers far outnumbered the commanding officers and the politicians at home.
I don’t like to advocate violence in any form, but if the soldiers were going to shoot anybody, why didn’t they just shoot their commanding officers? Actually, they didn’t even have to do that. If the numbers had been large enough, they could have just refused to fight.
It makes me wonder how these soldiers could come out and talk to each other and realize they were all regular human beings, yet go on fighting. Soldiers on all sides were simply obeying orders.
Was it public pressure? Is it because they did not want to be seen as a coward by their families and hometown? Is it because they had some sense of allegiance to the state?
In reality, it is the overall populace that is really controlled. If the people at home had been hoping for the soldiers to turn on their own commanding officers, then I think most of them would have done it. Most of them really did not want to fight. But for some reason, most of them followed orders.
When libertarians talk about the state relying on the consent of the people, this is the perfect example. These wars could only be fought by the soldiers actually firing the rifles. The politicians don’t fight the wars. They are absolutely powerless without the consent of the people.
This holds true today. Wars can only be fought by the people doing the firing. Unfortunately, today that includes pressing buttons from thousands of miles away for missiles or drones. Still, it takes somebody to press the button. Would the person be as likely to press the button if he knew he would be met with hatred and ridicule in society? “Hey Joe. Have you killed any little kids in Pakistan today? You are oh so brave for sitting in your office and firing drone bombs over people.”
War really is absurd. It only goes on because people are controlled. But they are only controlled because they allow it to happen. They are granting their consent, even if it is not explicit.