Remembering, Again, The 1914 Christmas Truce

Truce

I’ve posted on this a couple of times, and as it is one of the more unusual ethics events in history to occur on Christmas, here it is again. Of course, as an America, I am joyful about another, more consequential military event that happened on Christmas. Washington crossed the Delaware river on this date. His resulting victory over the Hessians at Trenton was, in the end, less than consequential militarily, but it was important nonetheless . It bolstered the rebelling colonies’ morale, at a point where there were serious doubts that the nascent democracy had any chance to prevail.

One of the weirdest events in world history took place on Christmas 1914, at the very beginning of the five year, pointless and stunningly destructive carnage of The Great War, what President Woodrow Wilson, right as usual, called “The War to End All Wars.”

World War I, as it was later called after the world war it caused succeeded it,  led to the deaths of more than 25 million people, and if anything was accomplished by them, I have yet to read about it.

The much sentimentalized event was a spontaneous Christmas truce, as soldiers on opposing sides on the Western Front, defying orders from superiors, pretended the war didn’t exist and left their trenches, put their weapons and animus aside, sang carols,  shared food, buried their dead, and perhaps, depending on which source you choose to believe, even played soccer against each other.

The brass on both sides—this was a British and German phenomenon only—took steps to ensure that  this would never happen again, and it never did.

It all began on Christmas Eve, when at 8:30 p.m. an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles reported to headquarters that “The Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.” The two sides progressed to serenading each other with Christmas carols, with the German combatants crooning  “Silent Night,” and the British adversaries responding with “The First Noel.“ The war diary of the Scots Guards reported that a private  “met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whisky and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us.”

The same deal was struck spontaneously at other locales across the battlefield. Another British soldier reported that as Christmas Eve wound down into Christmas morning,  “all down our line of trenches there came to our ears a greeting unique in war: ‘English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!’” He wrote in a letter home that he heard,

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The 105th Anniversary Of “The Christmas Truce”

One hundred and five years ago today, one of the weirdest events in world history took place at the very beginning of the five year, pointless and stunningly destructive carnage of The Great War, what President Woodrow Wilson, right as usual, called “The War to End All Wars.”

World War I, as it was later called after the world war it caused succeeded it,  led to the deaths of more than 25 million people, and if anything was accomplished by them, I have yet to read about it.

The much sentimentalized event was a spontaneous Christmas truce, as soldiers on opposing sides on the Western Front, defying orders from superiors, pretended the war didn’t exist and left their trenches, put their weapons and animus aside, sang carols,  shared food, buried their dead, and perhaps, depending on which source you choose to believe, even played soccer against each other.

The brass on both sides—this was a British and German phenomenon only—took steps to ensure that  this would never happen again, and it never did.

It all began on Christmas Eve, when at 8:30 p.m. an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles reported to headquarters that “The Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.” The two sides progressed to serenading each other with Christmas carols, with the German combatants crooning  “Silent Night,” and the British adversaries responding with “The First Noel.“ The war diary of the Scots Guards reported that a private  “met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whisky and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us.”

The same deal was struck spontaneously at other locales across the battlefield. Another British soldier reported that as Christmas Eve wound down into Christmas morning,  “all down our line of trenches there came to our ears a greeting unique in war: ‘English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!’” He wrote in a letter home that he heard,

‘Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.’ For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity—war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn—a night made easier by songs from the Germantrenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines, laughter…

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Where Have You Gone, Ernest Hemingway? Of Baseball, Tanking, Winning, Trying, And Life…

This essay is only incidentally about baseball, but like so many things that sieve through my brain, it was sparked by a conversation about baseball. On the satellite radio MLB channel, one of the interchangeable hosts—I really have trouble telling them apart: some are ex-general managers who nobody will hire, some are ex-players, and a few are sportswriters, but they all seem to say the same things, though one says them with a bilateral lisp—was interviewing a New York sportswriter. That alone would normally prompt me to switch to the Beatles Channel (or the weather), but as I reached for the dial I caught one of the writer’s comments. He was talking about the fact that the New York Yankees’ opponent at the time, the Tampa Bay Rays, were almost a .500 team, and were competing despite a tiny payroll, unlike many other teams this year, which have adopted the controversial strategy of fielding cheap and crummy teams (called “tanking’) in the hopes of getting high draft choices as a reward for  miserable won-lost records.

“I guess you have to admire the Rays,” he said, “though in this day and age, it makes no sense to try to be a .500 team.”

What a nauseating, unethical position, and how characteristic of the downward trend in American values and spirituality!  It makes no sense to try be a .500 team? This sentiment warps so much in American life today. It translates into the envy, resentment and anger that typical, normal, healthy Americans lug around on their souls all day because they aren’t rich like the people they see on TV, or the neighbor down the street who had wealthy parents and left him a bundle.

It makes sense for the Rays to try to be a .500 team because it means the team is doing the best it can, despite limitations beyond its control, to give its fans something to cheer and care about. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it makes sense to aspire to be the kind of steady, honest, hard-working middle class American who raises happy and well-adjusted children in a stable home but will never win any major awards or be the subject of features in their local newspapers. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it is right to work hard and well no matter what your salary, or whether you are being paid at all.

Ambition is a great motivator, as long as one understands that achieving one’s goals is often as dependent on chance and chaos as it is on industry and talent, and if you prepare yourself to be bitter about that, bitter is how you are likely to wind up.

I learned to love baseball passionately following a .500 baseball team–indeed a sub-.500 baseball team— that seemed like it would never be anything but. This was in an era where the New York Yankees literally won the pennant every year, with a rare exception now and then. The system was rigged to favor them, and had been for decades. The Boston Red Sox began every season knowing that getting to the World Series was a pipe dream, and their fans knew it too. Nevertheless, they tried. As an almost good team, they had a chance to win every game—not a great chance, when they were playing the Yankees, but a chance. Often the Sox made a good fight of it while going down: our hopes were raised, and there was that wonderful-horrible moment that is the beating heart of baseball where anything can happen from a miracle to a tragedy as the ball is hurtling toward the plate and fate’s resolution. Life is like that, and the sooner you realize and accept it, the better off you are.

The best hitters make outs 60% of the time, and the best teams still lose at least 35% of their games. The typical players and teams do worse than that, just like the typical American, indeed human being, loses a lot more often than he or she wins. The important thing, the thing that undergirds ethics, and integrity, and responsibility, and honor, is that you do the best you can, and pick yourself up when you fail, and try again. It’s not a bromide. It’s the only way to live without going crazy, becoming a serial killer, or surrendering to despair. Continue reading

Trump’s Critics And The “Julie Principle” Follow-Up: And If You Don’t Pounce On Every Silly Trump Tweet Like It Was A Threat To The Constitution, You Won’t Be As Likely To Have THIS Happen…

doh-dohFrom PHILADELPHIA (CBS/CNN)

“President-elect Donald Trump is coming under fire that there should be “consequences” for flag burners, but in 2005, Hillary Clinton backed a bill that would have criminalized burning the American flag.

While she was senator of New York, Clinton co-sponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005, which would have outlawed “destroying or damaging a U.S. flag with the primary purpose and intent to incite or produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace.”

You see, another benefit of practicing”The Julie Principle” is that it provides some protection from confirmation bias, which, as Ethics Alarms keeps telling you, makes you stupid, and cognitive dissonance, which warps your perception. Let me return to another section of the original “Julie Principle” post: Continue reading

Ethics Hero: World War II Vet Burke Waldron

It is a day late, but I finally have my Memorial Day post.

Thank-you, Burke Waldron, for your service, for making me feel young, and for having the integrity not to embarrass yourself, your contemporaries, and everyone else by making pathetic attempt at throwing a baseball.

I’m not sure which elements of Ethics Hero 92-year-old WW II veteran Burke Waldron displayed yesterday, as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Seattle Mariners game on Memorial Day. Call him a holistic hero. He’s a hero, like all of the fallen soldiers—including my dad—of past wars, because he risked the horrors of combat to defend our nation and the values it stands for…well, at least until Donald Trump is President.

He’s a hero because he represented his generation yesterday with style, verve and energy, running to the pitcher’s mound—in his uniform!as thousands cheered. Most of all, to me, he’s a hero because he took his assignment seriously, and didn’t emulate the pathetic rockers, politicians and even retired athletes who defile their first pitch honors by throwing the ball like a 7-year-old T-ball player, because they couldn’t be bothered to practice. Petty Officer, 2nd Class Waldron threw a strike to his catcher…

…just like another war hero, Ted Williams, did in his last appearance on a baseball field, at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Week: President Obama, Threading The Needle In Hiroshima

Obama at hiroshima

“We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women, and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.”

—-President Obama, speaking at the Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park in Japan, in a controversial visit to the site of the Unites States’ decisive use of the atom bomb to defeat Japan without an invasion in 1945.

Good job. Whoever drafted the speech—it may well have been Obama himself—perfectly threaded the needle, simultaneously making a compassionate diplomatic gesture and yet including an unmistakable reference to who was really at fault for the carnage. Those Korean casualties were captured and enslaved citizens of a sovereign nation, acquired as Imperial Japan swept over Asia like locusts. Those prisoners were prisoners of war, and horribly mistreated ones.

The passage of time made Obama’s subtlety more appropriate than President Harry Truman’s typically blunt response to an Aug. 9, 1945 telegram from  Samuel Cavert, the general secretary of the Federal Council of the Churches in Christ in America, saying he was “greatly disturbed” by Truman’s use of the bomb: Continue reading

Ethics Mystery: What Was So Wrong With Curt Schilling’s Muslim Tweet?

schilling-tweet

ESPN pulled former baseball pitching star Curt Schilling from its Little League broadcast team yesterday after becoming aware of his tweet above, saying in a statement:

“Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective. We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration.”

Schilling then tweeted this apology: “I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.” This appears to be a #1 on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale...“An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.” 

If I had delivered it, however, it might have been a #7: “A forced or compelled version of 1-4, in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent.”

What was it exactly that Schilling’s tweet showed, implied, suggested or stated that was” completely unacceptable,  in no way represent ESPN’s  perspective, and that justified his employer’s action? Curt Schilling is an inquisitive, politically active and opinionated man, and has always annoyed sportswriters because 1) he’s openly conservative 2) he’s a devout Christian, and isn’t shy about talking about it, 3) he can write and speak coherently and was capable, while playing, of challenging their criticism, and 4) he’s a lot smarter than most of them. I am assuming in this inquiry that nothing in Schilling’s contract or agreement with ESPN restricted his right to express non-sports opinions on his own time.

Here are some possibilities: Continue reading

“The Longest Day,” Darryl F. Zanuck, D-Day, And Us

title_longest_day_bluray

Today is June 6, the anniversary of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, the audacious military strike that changed the course of history. I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s commemorated this year, 71 years later, especially by the news media. A lot of Americans under the age of 40 know almost nothing about it, or worse, the values it represents to the United States.

Fortunately, there is an easy and entertaining way to teach a young American about what happened on this day 71 years ago. That is to have him or her watch “The Longest Day,” producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s epic film based closely on historian (and sole credited screenwriter) Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book. (You can get it at Amazon, here.)I usually find understanding military battles nearly impossible; written accounts completely confound me, and few movies about any battle make a serious effort to explain the tactics and strategy without reducing the facts to pablum. (I remember how much my father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, detested the big budget movie of the same name, which he found outrageously sloppy, and which he summarized as “Henry Fonda won the war.”)

Not “The Longest Day,” however. Since seeing the movie with my father as a kid, I have learned a lot about what was left out, but the movie is remarkably clear and accurate about what happened and why without being either too detailed or too simplistic. It’s also just a great, inspiring movie.

That we have “The Longest Day” is entirely due to the courage of one of Hollywood’s most dynamic, flamboyant and successful studio moguls, Darryl F. Zanuck. The original producer of the adaptation of Ryan’s book (which is terrific ) gave up on the project when 20th Century Fox refused to allow him an adequate budget. Zanuck, who was still producing films but no longer ran the studio he had built,  bought the rights, and was determined to do the story, the event, and the men who fought the battle justice by mounting a production almost as ambitious as the invasion itself. Continue reading

For You, Dad.

Jack Marshall Sr Army portraitI lost my dad, Jack Marshall, Sr., five years ago today, and for some reason the loss feels especially sharp right now. This has been another miserable birthday, but not so miserable as that one, and I found myself once again revisiting my father’s favorite poem, which was a personnel credo for him and which has often served me well in hard times too. It is linked in the “Inspiration” section on the  Ethics Alarms home page, as well as quoted in my post here on the day my father was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Nonetheless, I am going to post Rudyard Kipling’s “If” once again. My father’s favorite line was…

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
That was Dad to the core. He never looked back, never cursed his luck, never thought too highly of himself (or anyone else), always believed in tomorrow, and that no victory was final, and no defeat was forever. And I know he was right, though it doesn’t often feel like it. So this is for you, Dad. Thanks for everything.

“If”

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait, and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet, don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves, to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop, and build ’em up, with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn, long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—

You’ll be a Man, my son!