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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The Great World War I Dogfight Photo Hoax

You are probably familiar with the famous Cottingley fairy photography hoax (there’s even a movie about it starring Peter O’Toole) in which two young British girls fooled much of the world—and credulous believer in the supernatural Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—into thinking that they had captured photographic proof that the fairy folk of legend existed. That hoax, however, was a mere bagatelle compared to this one.

In the early 1930s, a Mrs. Gladys Maud Cockburne-Lange said she was the widow of a Royal Flying Corps pilot. She presented  stunning photographs of scenes of aerial combat during World War I, apparently taken in the air from a combat biplane. Her late husband, she said, had defied the RFC’s regulations and mounted a camera on his plane, tying its shutter action to his machine gun. The resulting photos were the first  visual representation of British and German planes fighting each other taken from the air. They showed  bi-panes crashing into each other, being shot to pieces, catching on fire, and even pilots falling from the sky.

All previous photos of  WWI aerial “dogfights” had been taken from the ground, so this unexpected  trove of photographs caused a sensation.  The images were rapidly sold to newspapers, galleries, and publishers. Mrs. Cockburne-Langes sold 34 of the photos to one  publisher for  $20,000, a huge sum during the Great Depression, and they were later published in a popular book, “Death in the Air: The War Diary and Photographs of a Flying Corps Pilot.” by an anonymous author.

Unlike the fairy photo hoax, however, the truth about these photos took hald a century to uncover.  In 1984, the Smithsonian Institute received a donation of materials from Wesley David Archer, an American pilot who had served with the RFC and then…wait for it… became a special-effects technician in Hollywood.  Air and Space Museum curator Karl S. Schneide and Peter M. Grosz, an aviation expert, investigated the materials, and discovered  that in  some of the photographs, the wires holding up the model airplanes used to create the illusion of mid-air dogfights had yet to be airbrushed out. The materials also contained a diary entry that revealed the entire scheme. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/21/2018: Getting The Tree Lights On In One Day Victory Lap Edition, Featuring Sports, Movies, Jerks And “Bambi”

Happy Holidays!

Seven hours, one serious needle wound, and 1300 lights later, victory! I’ll finish the decorations when I get back home, IF I get back home…

1. Itinerary…I’m heading to New Jersey via train to hook up with the brilliant Mike Messer, what we call “the talent,” in an encore rendition of the musical legal ethics seminar, “Ethics Rock Extreme,” lyrics by yours truly, musical stylings by Mike, on the guitar. Then it’s back to D.C. by air on Saturday, if I’m lucky. If I’m not lucky, I’ll be taking the New Jersey bar exam in the Spring…

I have no idea how or whether I’ll be able to keep Ethics Alarms on track once I board the train this afternoon. I’m not going to launch a second Open Forum in leas than a week, so please keep working on the current one here, now at 130 entries and counting. I will be reviewing those on the road, and I’m sure there will be some Comments of the Day to post, eventually.

2. In case I am trapped in New Jersey…Let me alert everyone that Peter Jackson’s apparently terrific (based on the reviews) WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will be playing in theaters on December 27, and after that, who knows? The American public’s ignorance about that war, perhaps the greatest human catastrophe in modern history, is a failure of education, perspective and culture. If you have kids, take them. Here is the trailer:

3. Speaking of cultural literacy and movies, TCM is offering a limited engagement in theaters for “The Wizard of Oz,” on January 27, 29, and 30.

Is there another film that so many people purport to know and love so well without actually having seen it as it was intended to be seen? When I finally saw the movie in a theater—no breaks or commercials, big screen—I was shocked at how different and, obviously, better, the experience was. It’s an artistic masterpiece and sui generis: we will never see its like again, nor talents like Judy, Ray and Burt, among others. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “President Trump Will Not Throw Out The First Ball Of The Baseball Season”

The post about how the Democratic hate-mongering campaign against President Trump has stopped him from continuing the century old tradition of POTUS symbolically signalling the beginning of the baseball season with a ceremonial first pitch inspired another Comment of the Day from Steve-O-in NJ, on the related topic of jerks.

Part of his commentary below evokes TV comics, who, as he notes, have become entirely one-party, partisan shills, and if that leaves humor in the dust, so be it.

Last night, reacting to news that Ivanka Trump would be an unpaid but official advisor to her father, Daily Show host Trevor Noah  played a clip of an old interview with Ivanka by Leslie Stahl, in which the First Daughter answered a question about whether she would be active in the administration, saying,

“Um no, I’m going to be a daughter.”

“And a liar!” quipped Noah. HAHAHAHAHA! Isn’t that funny? HAHAHAHAHA! He’s a vile, unfunny,  dumb partisan hack. What she said wasn’t a promise, and it wasn’t a pledge. Even if it was uttered by Ivanka under oath, it couldn’t be called a lie, or even hypocrisy, unless there is reason to believe that she said this knowing it wouldn’t be true. Proof, please, Mr, Noah, you asshole.

That’s what she thought was the case then; now conditions have changed, and she decided to do something else.  If a woman, say, Ivanka Trump, said on TV, “I’m going to marry Trevor Noah,” and then, having seen what a miserable jerk he is on TV, decided not to marry him, would that mean she was lying when she said she would? Do these relentless leftist hit-comics —Bee, Oliver, Maher, Colbert, Kimmel, et al, or the right-oriented…wait, there are no right-oriented comics—have any integrity at all? Decency? Or a dictionary?  The people who find Noah’s attack on Ivanka hilarious are the same people who were glad she was harassed on an airplane, and who organized a boycott of her products. You know. Jerks.

Mega Jerk Noah then detoured into news that former South Korea President Park Geun-hye would be jailed for corruption. “Wow, a president impeached, removed from office and thrown in jail. Imagine that,” said Noah, “No, no, seriously, let’s all close our eyes and imagine that.”

I have Facebook friends who issue bile like this every day. It is simply, clearly, hate-mongering, citizens wishing ill on their nation’s leader, making two party government impossible, and fanning the flames of social unrest while proclaiming their own bias and ignorance. They want to jail the President of the United States because he beat their corrupt, incompetent candidate. Stalin would be so proud.

These are friends of mine, but their conduct is detestable and loathsome.

But I digress. Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, President Trump Will Not Throw Out The First Ball Of The Baseball Season:

Someone compared me to Mr. Hyde or a werewolf, so I have to make sure I’ve taken my potion before I respond. Unfortunately, the jerks win a lot more than a lot of us would like to admit, as every kid who took the long way home to avoid the class bully, every girl who didn’t attend dances because she was marginalized by the queen bees, and three quarters of people who quit jobs (75% of resignations are due to not getting along with one’s immediate supervisor) can testify to. In the past the grown-up culture of this country had moved past jerkiness, now it thrives on it.

Part of it is the ease with which now anyone can say anything about anyone and have it cross cyberspace in the blink of an eye. Not only that, but now anyone with a couple of apps or Photoshop (if you spring for it) can easily make anyone look bad or create an image that can’t be unseen (I just got Photoshop, and a friend who serves me in the same role as Jiminy Cricket warned me to use it wisely and NOT to combine my photographic and rhetorical skills to cook up tasty, quickly digestible morsels of hate, bias, or disdain) . However, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

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

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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

Memorial Day Ethics Hero Emeritus: Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., 1887–1944

Teddy Jr

The latest inductee into the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor has a familiar name that burdened him with exorbitant expectations his entire life. Yet against all odds, he managed to add to its prestige.

With some notable exceptions that you can probably name, being the son of a President of the United States has proven to be a burden and often a curse. Being the oldest son of our most flamboyant President was particularly hard on Teddy Roosevelt’s boy who shared his name, and through young adulthood, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  experienced migraine headaches and other symptoms of anxiety and stress. The President was even cautioned by a family friend and physician that his constant badgering was ruining his son’s health.

Young Ted still followed his father’s path to fame by enrolling at Harvard, then became a partner in a Philadelphia investment banking firm. With the U.S. entry into the Great War, Roosevelt enlisted in the army, fought in Europe, rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and was gassed and shot in the kneecap in 1918.  Roosevelt received the Distinguished Service Cross. He was renowned for his courage under fire as well as his unusual concern for the men under his command: at one point, he personally purchased new boots for his entire battalion. After the war, Roosevelt was instrumental in the founding the American Legion in 1919. Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 3): When The Going Got Tough

 presidents.

The Presidents really get interesting now, as a political leadership culture in the U.S. matures, the stakes of failure become greater, and technology, labor upheaval, expanding big business and greater influence on world affairs transforms the Presidency into truly the toughest job on earth.

Grover Cleveland

grover

Another one of my favorites, Cleveland was known for telling the truth ( he as called “Grover the Good”), but he participated in one of the most elaborate deceptions in Presidential history.

As explained in historian Matthew Algeo’s 2011 book, “The President Is a Sick Man,”  President Cleveland noticed an odd bump on the roof of his mouth in the summer of 1893, shortly after he took office for the second time. (Cleveland is the only President with split terms, the hapless Republican Benjamin Harrison winning an electoral college victory that gave him four years as the bland filling in a Cleveland sandwich.) The bump was diagnosed as a life-threatening malignant tumor, and the remedy was removal. Cleveland believed that news of his diagnosis would send Wall Street and the country  into a panic at a time when the economy was sliding into a depression anyway, and agreed to an ambitious and dangerous plan to have the surgery done in secret. The plan was for the President to announce he was taking a friend’s yacht on a four-day fishing trip from New York to his summer home in Cape Cod. Unknown to the press and the public was that the yacht had been transformed into a floating operating room, and a team of six surgeons were assembled and waiting.

The 90 minute procedure employed ether as the anesthesia, and the doctors removed the tumor, five teeth and a large part of the President’s upper left jawbone, all at sea. They also managed to extract the tumor through the President’s mouth while leaving no visible scar and without altering Cleveland’s walrus mustache. Talking on NPR in 2011, historian said,

“I talked to a couple of oral surgeons researching the book, and they still marvel at this operation: that they were able to do this on a moving boat; that they did it very quickly. A similar operation today would take several hours; they did it in 90 minutes.”

But the operation was a success. An artificial partial upper jaw made of rubber was installed to replace the missing bone, and Cleveland, who had the constitution of a moose, reappeared after four days looking hardy and most incredible of all, able to speak as clearly as ever. How did he heal so fast? Why wasn’t his speech effected? He endures doctors cutting out a large chuck of his mouth using 19th century surgical techniques and is back on the job in less than a week? No wonder nobody suspected the truth.

Then, two months later, Philadelphia Press reporter E.J. Edwards published a story about the surgery, thanks to one of the doctors anonymously breaching doctor-patient confidentiality. Cleveland, who in his first campaign for the White House had dealt with Republican accusations that he had fathered an illegitimate child by publicly admitting it, flatly denied Edwards’ story, and his aides  launched a campaign to discredit the reporter. Grover the Good never lies, thought the public, so Edwards ended up where Brian Williams is now. His career and credibility were ruined.

Nobody outside of the participants knew about the operation and the President’s fake jaw until twenty-four years later, after all the other principals were dead except three witnesses.  One of the surgeons decided to  publish an article to prove that E.J. Edwards had been telling the truth after all.

This is a great ethics problem. Was it ethical for Cleveland to keep his health issues from the public? In this case, yes, I’d say so. Was it unethical for the doctor to break his ethical duty? Of course. Was Edwards ethical to report the story? Sure.

The tough question is: Was Cleveland ethical to deny the story and undermine the reporter’s credibility? I think it was a valid utilitarian move, and barely ethical: it was better for the nation to distrust one reporter than the President, especially when his secret was one he responsibly withheld, and his doctor unethically revealed. Continue reading

On Its 100th Anniversary: Remembering The Great War’s Christmas Truce Of 1914

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On December 7, 1914, as the horrible, pointless, world-disrupting “War to End All Wars”  was only five months old, Pope Benedict XV suggested a truce for the celebration of Christmas. The governments of the battling nations rejected the idea, but in the days leading up to  Christmas and after, many of  the soldiers in the trenches of this ugly conflict took the Pope’s advice.

On December 20, Germans soldiers in some areas took in British wounded from the no man’s land between the warring armies. A German soldier reported on December 22 that both sides had been heard singing Christmas Carols in the trenches. German troops arriving into the lines had begun bringing Christmas trees, and some men placed them on the parapets of the fire trenches. Then, on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops serenaded each other across the lines. Allied soldiers reported that sometimes their singing was accompanied by German brass bands. Then, Christmas Day, 1914, some of the German soldiers left their trenches and  carefully approached Allied lines, shouting“Merry Christmas” in French and English. Allied soldiers climbed out of their trenches, and shook hands with the men who had only recently been trying to kill them. Some even exchanged exchanged gifts of cigarettes and and food. There were even instances where soldiers from opposing sides played soccer: in England, one organization is holding a match next week against a German team to commemorate such contests. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘An Unethical Website, Golden Rule Malpractice And The Worst Anti-Bullying Program Ever'”

Atom bomb cloud

Responding to according2grayson’s passionate defense of non-violence and the Golden Rule while encountering bullies (as well as while opposing despots on the march), Steve-O-in-NJ enriched Ethics Alarms with an epic response including historical perspective, ethics and personal experience.

Here is his terrific post—long but not to be missed—and the Comment of the Day, on Comment of the Day: “An Unethical Website, Golden Rule Malpractice And The Worst Anti-Bullying Program Ever”:

I question this litany of life experiences, since it sounds a bit too pat and a bit too neat to be real, or at least it sounds sanitized/incomplete. Those with truly outstanding records usually don’t feel the need to trumpet them. That said, I wasn’t there, so maybe it is all true.

I know I tried the non-violent approach a few times, and it just lead to more bullying. I also tried the fight-back approach, smashing one bully’s head against the sidewalk and nearly strangling another, and it frankly didn’t get much more done beyond getting the bullies off my back temporarily. That said, a temporary respite from abuse is better than absorbing abuse every day without a respite. What really broke one group of problem people was a combination of finally going to the authorities and the people overreaching.Despite the justified criticism of Catholic schools (a whole separate discussion), they did have one very big thing going for them: no one who was enrolled had to be, or had any right to be, and dismissal or necessary discipline was easily accomplished. Continue reading