Reviewed: November 5, 2009
By: Jim Murphy
Publisher: Scholastic press
116 pages, $24.99
“What would happen, I wonder if the armies suddenly and simultaneously
went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute.”
Winston Churchill, letter to his wife, November 23, 1914
Churchill was, as it turns out prescient, and in his own way echoed an in idea
that would turn up on bumper stickers and wall posters in the late 1960s and
early 1970s” Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?
The sad truth about war is that there’s almost always someone who is willing
to show up, thought quite often, as with the invasion of Iraq, the reasons for
going are either unclear or falsified.
Truce is the story of the first Christmas of World War I, and the strange events
that occurred between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day when men on both
sides of the trenches laid down their weapons, met in the No Mans’ Land
between their lines, exchanged gifts. sang carols, too photographs with each
other and generally behaved in an entirely unsoldierly manner, to the dismay
of the generals who were leading from the rear and, most of the time, really
had no idea what was going on at the Front.
Murphy prefaces this story with a lot of background, including examples of the
20 years of sabre rattling and nationalistic propaganda on both sides which
led to the war. While the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are often
compared to Viet Nam, Murphy says in his epilogue that the years leading up
to the so-called Great War have a great deal in common with the months of rhetoric
after September 11, 2001 that led to our present mess.
In examining the steps that led to the war, and how a purely internal assassination
in Austria ignited all of Europe and its network of colonies on other continents,
Murphy makes the point that the war as entirely unnecessary, based or false
conclusions drawn from events, and fueled by the jingoistic ambitions of certain
rulers. The German Kaiser egged on the aging Austrian Emperor, only to discover
too late that his assumptions about the situation between Austria-Hungary and
Serbia were mistaken. It is said that Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to call it all off,
but discovered that he had left it too late/
Everything else went wrong. It was all supposed to be over by Christmas, but
no strategists had actually taken into account the effect of new weapons - artillery,
machine guns, barbed wire and other things - and the battles ground on for four
That first Christmas, however, the men on both sides had had enough, and when
informal overtures were made, they responded like the family men most of them
were instead of the hardened killers their officers wanted then to be. They
found out that the enemy was composed of fellows just like themselves, with
the same loves, desires and fears; decent men after all, not monsters.
For the 12 days of Christmas most of the Western Front fell silent.
The High Commands on both sides later took steps to see that that never happened
again, not on that scale, and the war continued as badly planned.
This is an excellent little book, well illustrated with both photos and artwork,
and easy to digest. It was written for high school students, but it’s
just a suitable for adults.