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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Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/13/20: Sick Dog Edition

SICK, PLAYFUL  OR SCARED CAVALIER DOG COVERED WITH A WARM  TASSEL BLANKET

This is likely to be short, because the Marshall household is distracted. Over the last 48 hours, some mysterious malady has attacked our sweet dog, and we are deciding whether to avail ourselves of one of the few 24-hour vet emergency services or wait until tomorrow. Thanks to the $$$#@!%! pandemic, anything is going to require hours of waiting, and this is a very bad day for that, as it is a work day here at ProEthics. Starting Friday night, Spuds started acting distracted and hyper, wanting to go out, not wanting to come back into the house, making weird yips and staring outside like the devil was lurking. He suddenly started lying down in strange places, and stopped seeking out his usual resting spots (laps, bed and sofas). At the same time, his pink skin where the fur is sparse looked pinker, his face started showing blotches, and little bumps showed up today on his head. Nose: cold; appetite: fine. He’s not listless: the opposite, in fact. But he’s clearly not happy.

Glad to see he’s adopted the Marshall canine tradition of only having medical emergencies on weekends, though….

1. Ethics Quote from African-American sportswriter Jason Whitlock in a recent column about racism, critical race theory and excuses:

We all love excuses — white, black, brown, yellow, whatever. People who love us, respect us, want the best for us, take the excuses away. The Liberal Construction Company does not love, respect or want the best for black people. That’s why liberals promote excuses for any black failure and disavow any excuse for white failure. If you can control a group’s expectations, you can control their level of success. A generation of black people have had their expectations diminished by Critical Race Theory. It’s a mental slavery, a Jim Crow for the mind.  

I’m not in denial of the existence of racism. I just reject using it as an excuse, and I refuse to fall for the clever marketing of racism’s primary proponents.

2. Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor turned legal analyst and pundit, shows again why he’s one of Ethics Alarm’s most trusted authorities with his article, “Supreme Court right to refuse to block Biden election — rejects absurd legal theory.” Of course, this is likely to be cited as one more reason for conservatives to abandon Fox News, which has been declared a traitor to the cause because of its admittedly strange coverage on election night.

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Reflections On The Penobscot Expedition

Remember the Penobscot Expedition? Of course you don’t. Today’s history lesson has many aspects worth pondering, but I only recall some mention of the fiasco from growing up in Arlington, Massachusetts. It struck me now as notable thanks to valkygrrl’s Great Americans contest, still generating comments here. One commenter suggested Paul Revere: I wonder if this episode in his career was considered. I assume not.

On July 19, 1779, in the middle of the Revolutionary War, the would-be state of Massachusetts, on it own and without consulting either Continental political or military authorities, set out on  badly planned a 4,000-man naval expedition that ended up as the biggest naval disaster in U.S. history until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The commanders were Commodore Dudley Saltonstall,  Adjutant General Peleg Wadsworth, Brigadier General Solomon Lovell aaaaand Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere.   19 warships, 24 transport ships and more than 1,000 militiamen set out  to capture a 750-man British garrison at Castine on the Penobscot Peninsula, then part of Massachusetts, but now known as “Maine.”

On July 25, the Massachusetts forces launched a series of disorganized land attacks, largely leaving their naval forces, which were mostly manned by untrained sailors,  out of the battle. This gave the British crucial time for reinforcements to arrive. General Lovell, the commander of the land assault,  saw Sir George Collier’s seven British warships arrive and retreated, expecting Commodore Saltonstall to oppose them. Instead, Saltonstall, quickly decided that resistance was futile and  surprised everybody by fleeing upriver and burning his own ships. Continue reading

Observations On The Gadsden Flag Controversy

Gadsden Flag

On the Volokh Conspiracy, now featured on the Washington Post website, Prof. Volokh applies his First Amendment expertise to a recent EEOC decision which ruled that a complaint from an African-American that a fellow worker who repeatedly wore a cap with the famous “Don’t Tread On Me” insignia from the Gadsden flag may have created a hostile work environment at the federal agency both worked for. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission called for further investigation, including an interview of the cap-owner’s intention in wearing the symbol, concluding,

“In light of the ambiguity in the current meaning of this symbol, we find that Complainant’s claim must be investigated to determine the specific context in which C1 displayed the symbol in the workplace. In so finding, we are not prejudging the merits of Complainant’s complaint. Instead, we are precluding a procedural dismissal that would deprive us of evidence that would illuminate the meaning conveyed by C1’s display of the symbol.”

Observations:

1. Now this is the slippery slope. Because murderous racist Dylan Roof posed with the Confederate flag, a tipping point was reached that resulted in the symbol and the flag being effectively and in some respects officially banned. The EEOC had already ruled the wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt constituted racial harassment,. Now the banning of historically significant symbols is threatening to spread to a flag that had no relationship to race whatsoever, in large part because of who has chosen to display it.

2. There is a whole website devoted to the Gadsden flag, from which we learn that…

  • It first appeared in October of 1775, as the British were occupying Boston and the desperate Continental Army was dug in in nearby Cambridge, lacking sufficient arms and ammunition.  In October, a merchant ship returning to Philadelphia from a voyage to England brought private letters to the Second Continental Congress informing it that  England was sending two cargo ships to America loaded with arms and gunpowder for the British troops.
  • Congress decided Washington’s troops’ plight required that those ships and their cargo be captured. It authorized the creation of a Continental Navy, then only four vessels, to take the ships. Congress also authorized the mustering of five companies of Marines. Some of the Marines enlisting that month in Philadelphia carried drums painted yellow, emblazoned with a  rattlesnake with thirteen rattles, coiled and ready to strike, accompanied by the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.”
  • That same December, a citizen calling himself  “An American Guesser,” anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal, saying in part:

“I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, ‘Don’t tread on me.’ As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America…the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America….She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. … she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her..

I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. …Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.”

It is generally agreed that the writer was really Benjamin Franklin. Ben had a hand in the design of the flag, since the first use of a rattlesnake to represent the colonies was his own “Join or die” cartoon,

800px-Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die

…published years earlier. Continue reading

More Than a Fool: Bachmann, John Quincy Adams, and Wikipedia

John Quincy Adams, Sixth President, slavery foe, and time-traveling Founding Father

I will strive a bit longer to avoid concluding that Michele Bachmann is as irresponsible, dishonest and dangerous as I strongly suspect that she is, though my determination may not last the time it takes to write this post. I won’t wait any longer to conclude that she is a fool.

In one short week since the controversy erupted over Fox News anchor Chris Wallace daring to ask her on the air, “Are you a flake?” and her subsequent botching of both her answer and the question’s fevered aftermath, she has stumbled into two flaky episodes. One—her mixing up Western movie star icon John Wayne with serial child killer John Wayne Gacy—was at least funny. The other, far less forgivable—her claim that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States”—has signature significance. Continue reading

The Remarkable Character of George Washington

Today is George Washington’s birthday, and it is appropriate for every American, and certainly every ethicist, to pause in awe of this unique and indispensable man. Ethics Alarms honors him today with his own words, showing the depth of his good character, good judgment and commitment to ethical conduct in a letter to a man who later betrayed his trust, Benedict Arnold. This is the letter sent to Arnold, then his most trusted subordinate in the Revolutionary War, as Arnold was preparing to invade Quebec.

Happy Birthday, General Washington. More than three hundred years later, you lead us still.

George Washington to Benedict Arnold
September 14, 1775. Continue reading