By Lorenzo Ricci
The other day, when I was talking to my friend over dinner about what I would be writing for my archway article, I explained that I wanted to write about the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which is this year. Her reply? “I hate guys that talk about war.” Of course I, a guy talking about war, was taken aback. She went on to say, “Like one person I know, they just talk about the battles and the strategies they used, and I hate it.” As a history lover, I have definitely talked about WWI battles, as well as how the war started and how it was fought. However, when I thought about these comments more, I realized she was right. What really got me thinking was her comment about how she likes talking history as well, just not the wars. When people talk about wars, they talk about the battles, the bloodshed, the politics, the weapons, etc. However, they hardly ever seem to talk about what really drives a war; the people.
After what my friend said, I realized a newspaper history lesson was not the way to spark interest in WWI, nor would it be relatable to anyone. Instead, I got the idea that WWI, and any war in general, needs to be about more than just the tactical talk. It needs to be looked at as a learning experience. So, for the people who hate to talk about war like my friend, you make a great point. It’s not about the tactical talk. It should be about what we can learn and apply. History should teach us lessons, not just be a talking point and the source for epic historical movies.
Who were the people of World War I? They were young men who wanted to live. They were kids pulled from all over the world and forced to go to places that some probably could not even point out on a globe. While this was a war waged by powerful, angry men, and the little guys were forced into the game. The war was a display of humanity getting in its own way. However, it is also a very real story of how humanity can come together, despite the greatest of odds. It is a story that shows that hate will breed hate, and that empathy is incredibly important to the way humans should deal with each other when conflict arises.
Saying humanity came together during a war may seem like an oxymoron, but it is a very real thing that happened. In December of 1914, the Pope called for a ceasefire to celebrate the holiday of Christmas. The leaders of both sides rejected this idea. However, the men in the trenches had other plans. On the morning of December 25th, Christmas day, the German soldiers climbed out of their trenches and advanced across the deadly no-man’s-land. They walked toward Allied lines, unarmed and calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. The Allies thought it was a trick, but they saw the unarmed soldiers and decided to join them. They shook hands with their enemy and suddenly, the war was gone. The hate was gone. There was an understanding, and the two sides exchanged cigarettes and food. Instead of gunfire, the sound of Christmas carols filled the air. They even played a friendly game of soccer. The war had left the Western Front, and in its place was a bond of humanity, as well as the spirit of peace and goodwill. They were fighting a war, but not each other.
Sadly, the Christmas truce was never repeated. After that Christmas day, any attempts at a truce like the on Christmas day would have ended with yelling from military leaders. After 1914, the war went on for about 4 more long years. More men died, more politics were discussed, and nothing was truly won. Eventually, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, the Treaty of Versailles was signed and the Great War was over. There seemed to be a clear way to deal with Germany. President Wilson caught on and tried to prevent it with his 14 points, but was dismissed. The Treaty of Versailles was a treaty of pure hate. It was a retaliation by the Allies against their enemy, namely the Germans. They demanded too much, later sending Germany spiraling into ruin, which of course led to World War II. The problem here wasn’t just the politics but also the people. An idea has no real power unless there are people to back it. The treaty to end WWI was built on hate and revenge. The Allies had no empathy towards their enemy and no thoughts about the future, focusing on just then and there.
Some people hate talking about war, but there is more to it than the tactical talk. Look at our country now and how divided we are. Look at the hate being spewed around and the terrible actions that follow them. We are a united country, but we have people of all races, religions, genders, sexualities, and ways of thinking. If the armies of the Allies and the Germans, who were at war, can come together to celebrate with their fellow man, why can’t we? We are a nation of differences, and of course there are going to be disagreements. They are inevitable, a part of natural communication and progress. However, that does not mean we can act in hate. One side should not just lash out in the moment and think nothing about the future. The Treaty of Versailles solved nothing. It fixed nothing. It was one of the reasons the horrors of the 30s and 40s were able to come to fruition. Hate breeds hate. Lack of empathy leads to hateful and one-sided arguments. So this Thanksgiving, be thankful you are not forced into conflict, but rather we can choose what we stand for. Also, do not just look at terrible events for what they are, like war. War is not just a terrible thing that happens, but it is something to learn from so that we can avoid future horrors. When something horrible happens, we need to look at it closer, we need to understand why it happened but most importantly, and we need to make sure it can never happen again. Lack of empathy leads to hate and aggression, with this hate breeding more hate. However, the most important take away is that humanity can come together despite the greatest odds, even a war of worldly proportions. Humans are just as capable of constructive love, as they are of incredibly destructive hate.