We are at our best when life is at its most difficult. War is a good example. Depending on your perspective, war can demonstrate the best and worst in humans. What is most mind boggling are stories of peace in the middle of the violence, ceasefires, truces, and even stories of enemies joining their forces against a common enemy.
When enemies lay down their respective weapons for a period of time or at least stop aiming them at each other, that is when war draws us in. It happens, sometimes forging legendary stories.
The World Wars claimed more lives than any other human conflict in known history. Still, there were pockets of activity, when the body count took a pause.
We’re gonna look at two from the Great War and one from part two to that war.
WWI: German and Ally Soldiers Celebrate Christmas Together
It was Christmastime 1914. Historians call it The Christmas Truce. It is perhaps one of the most famous stories from the Great War, one whose details are shaky at best, sometimes romanticized. If you believe the hype, German and Allied soldiers emerged from their foxholes driven by Christmas spirit and the need to play football (soccer to the Americans).
While there may have been an impromptu kick of something soccer ball-shaped, the actual exchange was as much about a rejection of the war from both sides than a need to play footy or sing Christmas Carols.
Pope Benedict XV had called for a Christmas truce of sorts, but the official war response was “heck no.” It was when the allied soldiers heard singing amidst a break in the shooting on Christmas Eve. The Germans were singing carols in their trenches. The allies and Germans engaged in an improvised call and response of singing carols. Eventually, they ended up on the same song.
The Germans made the first move. They raised a sign reading, “you no shoot, we no shoot.” Soldiers from both sides met in the no man’s land between their trenches. They carried away the dead, exchanged gifts of food, drink, buttons and hats.
This lasted through Christmas day, spread to different places on the front, but not entirely. There were still cases of bloodshed, some leveraging attempts at a truce, but there were truces that day.
WWI: The Time Australian Soldiers Traded Biscuits And Cigarettes With The Turks
January 1916. During the same war on a different front, allies made up of Australian and New Zealand soldiers came to a similar truce with their Turkish enemies in what is now Gallipoli, Turkey.
Again, it wasn’t the allies that started it. It was the other guys, and this time it wasn’t Christmas. There had been an battle between the two sides. When the ally troops returned to their trenches, they noticed one soldier was missing. He was injured, alive, but not able to move. He was screaming for help in the silence that filled the space between the sides.
A white flag from the Turkish trench singled a ceasefire. One soldier from the Turkish side carried the injured soldier back to the allies, then returned to his own without harm. After that, a packet tied to string came flying from the Turkish side. Inside the packet was cigarettes. On a prince of paper attached a note read in French, “To our heroic enemies.”
The allies flung back some beef and Australian biscuits with jam. For that moment two enemies took a mutual break to share food. Then the Turks waved and shouted “fini,” French for end.
The soldiers returned to their trenches and the fighting resumed.
WWII: The Battle At Castle Schloss Itter When Germans And Americans Fought Together
Austria, May 5th, 1945. It was five days after the suicide of Adolf Hitler, arguably the last hours of WWII. Allied troops rolled up in Sherman tanks the medieval Castle Schloss Itter, which was previously used to imprison former French political and army leaders.
The Nazis still defending the castle outnumbered the allies. (Apparently, they didn’t see the tweets about Hitler.)
The moment of awe came when anti-Nazi German soldiers joined the allies in taking the castle. Not without casualties, the combined forces were triumphant in the end. Even the French captives joined the fight once they had the chance to take up weapons.
This story is more often told by German historians as a moment when they did the right thing. It deserves the attention of everyone as another example of a beautiful truce in the middle of war.
Three examples of humanity shining through the darkness of war, when humans came together despite our differences to fund efforts to our mutual benefit.
We could debate the value of war until we grow tired, but there is merit in celebrating seeing through our differences. Humans will never all think or feel the same. Despite our best efforts, we will always have differences.
While it seems lately that those differences divide us more than before, we have historic examples where we’ve come together amid worse conditions.