Peace

Peace is an early novel by Gene Wolfe that on its surface is the story of a man growing up in a small Midwestern town in the early to mid-20th century. Our narrator, Alden Dennis Weer, goes over memories from different parts of … Continue reading

Peace is an early novel by Gene Wolfe that on its surface is the story of a man growing up in a small Midwestern town in the early to mid-20th century. Our narrator, Alden Dennis Weer, goes over memories from different parts of his life—his childhood, early adulthood, middle age, old age.[1][2] Unlike many of Wolfe’s most well-known works, it is a stand-alone novel rather than part of a series, and at least ostensibly takes place in a realistic, present-day world instead of a fantasy-setting.

As in many of Wolfe’s novels, much of the novel is taken up with stories within stories—particularly stories told to his the child Weer.[1]Many of the key events of the novel are not explicitly narrated, but can be inferred or guessed at based on information in the stories.

Different critics interpret what is actually happening in the novel differently.[3] One interpretation is that Weer is dead, and the scattered memories are those of a ghost. Another interpretation is that the memories of his old age are the fantasies of a middle-aged Weer, who is experiencing a nervous breakdown. The novel includes subtle clues to guide the reader’s understanding of the story, although the mysteries behind these clues have been hotly debated.[4]

Wolfe has described Peace as his favorite work, as it is the one where he came closest to achieving his original goals. Neil Gaiman, who has frequently praised the novel, said: “Peace really was a gentle Midwestern memoir the first time I read it. It only became a horror novel on the second or the third reading.”


Peace

Peace is an early novel by Gene Wolfe that on its surface is the story of a man growing up in a small Midwestern town in the early to mid-20th century. Our narrator, Alden Dennis Weer, goes over memories from different parts of … Continue reading

Peace is an early novel by Gene Wolfe that on its surface is the story of a man growing up in a small Midwestern town in the early to mid-20th century. Our narrator, Alden Dennis Weer, goes over memories from different parts of his life—his childhood, early adulthood, middle age, old age.[1][2] Unlike many of Wolfe’s most well-known works, it is a stand-alone novel rather than part of a series, and at least ostensibly takes place in a realistic, present-day world instead of a fantasy-setting.

As in many of Wolfe’s novels, much of the novel is taken up with stories within stories—particularly stories told to his the child Weer.[1]Many of the key events of the novel are not explicitly narrated, but can be inferred or guessed at based on information in the stories.

Different critics interpret what is actually happening in the novel differently.[3] One interpretation is that Weer is dead, and the scattered memories are those of a ghost. Another interpretation is that the memories of his old age are the fantasies of a middle-aged Weer, who is experiencing a nervous breakdown. The novel includes subtle clues to guide the reader’s understanding of the story, although the mysteries behind these clues have been hotly debated.[4]

Wolfe has described Peace as his favorite work, as it is the one where he came closest to achieving his original goals. Neil Gaiman, who has frequently praised the novel, said: “Peace really was a gentle Midwestern memoir the first time I read it. It only became a horror novel on the second or the third reading.”


Finkelstein on a Gandhian strategy for Gaza

[Finkelstein comments: I originally wrote this article having in mind a Gandhian strategy for dismantling the illegal wall Israel has been constructing in the West Bank. The same Gandhian principles however apply to breaking the illegal Gaza blockade.] Gandhil lecture … Continue reading

[Finkelstein comments: I originally wrote this article having in mind a Gandhian strategy for dismantling the illegal wall Israel has been constructing in the West Bank. The same Gandhian principles however apply to breaking the illegal Gaza blockade.]

Gandhil lecture

Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict: What we can learn from Gandhi

Tans Lecture, Maastricht University (13 November 2008)

This lecture will divide into three parts. First, I will lay out the terms of the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Second, I will sketch Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance. Third, I will assess the relevance of Gandhi’s doctrine for the Israel-Palestine conflict. I will argue that a moral legal consensus is a prerequisite for Gandhi’s doctrine to succeed. In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict such a consensus does exist, and consequently those seeking a just and lasting peace might benefit from giving Gandhi’s doctrine a serious hearing.

I. What is the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

II. What is Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolence?

III. What can supporters of a just peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict learn from Gandhi?

I. What is the international consensus for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

One of the best kept diplomatic secrets is that a broad international consensus has long existed on how to settle the Israel-Palestine conflict. Although this conflict has been depicted as among the most intricate, the authoritative political, legal and human rights bodies in the world in fact concur on the basis of its resolution. In the jargon of the so-called peace process, the “final status” issues are supposed to be so intractable that they need be deferred until the last stage of negotiations. These final status issues include borders, East Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees. The documentary record shows, however, that, on the terms for resolving these allegedly “controversial” issues, Israel and the United States stand virtually alone.

The United Nations General Assembly annually votes on a resolution titled, “Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine.” This resolution uniformly includes these tenets for “achieving a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine”: (1) “Affirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”; (2) “Affirming also the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the territory occupied since 1967 and of Israeli actions aimed at changing the status of Jerusalem”; (3) “Stresses the need for: (a) The realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination; (b) The withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”; (4) “Also stresses the need for resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees in
conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948.” Here is the recorded vote on this resolution the past decade:

Recorded vote
Year Yes-No-Abstained Negative votes cast by…
1997 155-2-3 Israel, United States
1998 154-2-3 Israel, United States
1999 149-3-2 Israel, United States, Marshall Islands
2000 149-2-3 Israel, United States
2001 131-6-20 Israel, United States, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru,Tuvalu
2002 160-4-3 Israel, United States, Marshall Islands, Micronesia
2003 160-6-5 Israel, United States, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Uganda
2004 161-7-10 Israel, United States, Australia, Grenada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau
2005 156-6-9 Israel, United States, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau
2006 157-7-10 Israel, United States, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia,
Nauru, Palau
2007 161-7-5 Israel, United States, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia,
Nauru, Palau

In 2004 the International Court of Justice rendered a landmark advisory opinion on the legality of the wall Israel has been constructing in the West Bank.2 The Court inventoried these “rules and principles of international law which are relevant in assessing the legality of the measures taken by Israel”: (1) “No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal”; (2) “the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967” have “no legal validity.” In its subsequent deliberations on “whether the construction of the wall has violated those rules and principles,” the
Court found
that:

[B]oth the General Assembly and the Security Council have referred, with regard to Palestine, to the customary rule of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”….It is on this same basis that the [Security] Council has several times condemned the measures taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem.

As regards the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination,…the existence of a “Palestinian people” is no longer in issue….[Its] rights include the right to self-determination.

Israel has conducted a policy and developed practices involving the establishment of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. …
The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.

Not one of the 15 judges sitting on the ICJ registered dissent from these basic principles and findings. It can scarcely be said however that they evinced prejudice against Israel, or that it was a “kangaroo court” (Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz).3 Several of the judges, although voting with the majority, expressed profound, perhaps undue, sympathy for Israel in their respective separate opinions. If the judges were nearly of one mind in their final determination, this consensus sprang not from collective prejudice but the factual situation: the uncontroversial nature of the legal principles at stake and Israel’s uncontroversial breach of them. Even the one judge voting against the 14-person majority condemning Israel’s construction of the wall, Thomas Buergenthal from the U.S., was at pains to stress that there was “much” in the advisory opinion “with which I agree.” On the crucial question of Israeli settlements he stated: “Paragraph 6 of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention…does not admit for exception on grounds of military or security exigencies. It provides that ‘the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies.’ I agree that this provision applies to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and that their existence violates Article 49, paragraph 6.”

A broad international consensus has also crystallized upholding the Palestinian “right of return.” We have already seen that the annual United Nations resolution, supported overwhelmingly by member States, calls for a settlement of the refugee question on the basis of resolution 194, which “resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their
homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for property of those choosing not to return.”4 In addition, respected human rights organizations “urge Israel to recognize the right to return for those Palestinians, and their descendants, who fled from territory that is now within the State of Israel, and who have maintained appropriate links with that territory” (Human Rights Watch), and “call for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, along with those of their descendants who have maintained genuine links with the area, to be able to exercise their right to return” (Amnesty International).

The documentary record clearly demonstrates that whereas the global community has consistently registered its support in numerous forums for a two-state settlement based on a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 border, and a resolution of the refugee question based on the right of return and compensation, Israel and the United States have consistently rejected such a settlement. The Arab League has unanimously supported a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border and a “just” resolution of the refugee question based on 194, and Hamas has endorsed a settlement on these terms,5 while the Palestinian Authority has not only accepted the terms of the global consensus but expressed willingness to make major concessions.6 The challenge for those seeking a just and lasting peace is to get Israel and the United States to respect international law and public opinion. A possible strategy is the one pioneered by Gandhi, to which I now turn.

II. What is Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolence?

Before sketching Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance or satyagraha7 I must enter several caveats. Gandhi’s collected works come to some 90 volumes, each of which runs to 500 pages. Due to time constraints I was able to peruse only 23 of these volumes,8 as well as a raft of anthologies,9 biographies and scholarly studies. Accordingly my remarks will be partial in a single and perhaps double sense. They won’t encompass the full scope of his reflections. My reading intentionally focused on the period 1933-1942 when Gandhi’s doctrine was put to the severest tests. It is
also arguable that because of this circumscribed reading I will have missed crucial transitions and ruptures in his thought, presenting a snapshot of a mind at work rather than the moving picture. Here, it seems I am on firmer ground, however. Gandhi lived a long, rich life, and one relentlessly subjected to self-scrutiny. Nonetheless he remained
remarkably consistent in his bedrock beliefs.10 He acknowledges local errors11 and reversals of judgment12 but there are no “Gods that Failed” recantations or “Second Thoughts” revelations. His one systematic philosophical exposition is a modest, seemingly eccentric volume titled Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) which he quickly penned in 1909.13 Rereading this book 30 years later, Gandhi expressed full satisfaction with it.14

To be sure, Gandhi’s concrete application of his doctrine appears replete with contradictions. Asserting that “my nonviolence cannot deviate from what is practical, ”Gandhi could sanction “calling in the army and having a handful of men shot” to stop inter-communal rioting.15 The world’s most famous exponent of nonviolence recruited an ambulance corps for the British side in the Boer War and Zulu War,16 again offered to raise an ambulance corps to serve the British army during World War I, and then recruited Indians to take up arms and fight in the war.17 Throughout his life he averred that such active wartime partisanship did not contradict his commitment to nonviolence.18 It must be said that on this point (and many others), the defenses he adduced for his practical activity did not carry conviction.19 Although trained as a barrister, Gandhi was not a persuasive arguer. Interrogated by a shrewd critic, he seldom had a compelling repartee and more often than not lapsed into mumbo-jumbo,20 although, humble as he indubitably was, Gandhi seemed always to believe that he had bested his interlocutors.21 He was also given to render sweeping verdicts on competing philosophies such as socialism although conceding that “I have read no books on the subject.”22

Gandhi liked to quote Emerson, “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”23 Regrettably for the little minds endeavoring to interpret his work, Gandhi was a consistent exponent of this quip. He can maintain that “in any examination of moral conduct, the intention is the chief ingredient,”24 and simultaneously maintain it is right
that “we normally look at the action and not at the intention.”25 He can deplore as a species of violence “a living wall of pickets in order to prevent the entry of persons into picketed places,”26 yet at the same time suggest to an Indian correspondent whose seat at the cinema was grabbed by a British soldier to “deliberately so to stand as to obstruct the view of the usurper.”27 He can state in one breath that even in “the classical instance of the defenseless sister or mother who is threatened with molestation by an evil-minded ruffian,” use of violence would not be permissible,28 yet in the next breath state that he would “defend” use of violence “against the whole world if I found myself in a corner when I could not save a helpless girl from violation.”29 He can avow that his “sympathies are wholly with the Allies” during World War II because “this war is resolving itself into one between such democracy as the West has evolved and totalitarianism as it is typified in Hitler,”30 and that “There is a fundamental difference between Fascism and even this imperialism which I am fighting,”31 yet simultaneously avow that “Hitlerism and Churchillism are in fact the same thing,” and that “I must fight Nazism and Fascism equally with the enslaving British imperialism.”32 He can praise the decision of French statesmen not to resist Nazi aggression because “the cause of liberty becomes a mockery if the price to be paid is wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty,”33 yet also assert that “no greater evil can befall a country than that it should lose its independence,”34 and that nations occupied by the Nazis, as well as German Jews, should elect annihilation rather than cooperate with the occupiers.35

To his credit it must nonetheless be said that Gandhi never shied away from giving critics of his pronouncements and policy a fair hearing. In conveying an intellectual or political dispute, he did not rig its terms to favor him or create straw men. It should perhaps also be noted in his defense that Gandhi conceived himself “essentially a man of action and a reformer,” a “practical reformer,”36 and that “no one is able to act upon a great principle, like that of nonviolence, in its entirety.”37 Logical consistency no doubt figured as a low priority compared to getting things done.

Gandhi’s nonviolent doctrine is not altogether amenable to rational analysis for other reasons as well. He never produced a programmatic or systematic guide on satyagraha. One has to piece together its theory and practice from scattered, often contradictory, confusing and obscure fragments. He indifferently conflated categories and collapsed
distinctions. Moreover, Gandhi’s doctrine was steeped in religious faith. “It is faith that sustains me, and it is faith that must sustain the other satyagrahis.”38 Although eager to recruit satyagrahis for the struggle, Gandhi was emphatic that communists and other nonbelievers need not apply.39 When he decided to embark on civil disobedience or a
fast, it was not after a secular reckoning of the “balance of forces,” but after an “inner urge,” “inner voice,” or “gift from God” prompted him.40 Gandhi denoted nonviolence a “science,”41 and conceived satyagraha not as a closed system but ceaseless experimentation in a perpetual and always incomplete search for truth. But his was a science not susceptible to external proof or refutation; its power drew from the “efficacy of the incalculable force of inscrutable divinity.”42 If it failed to produce the desired outcome, this demonstrated not an inadequacy of the theory but an impurity lurking in the soul of its human agents.43 He might be right, but it is hard to figure how one could
prove him wrong, just as one is rendered impotent before his ex cathedra pronouncements and saccharine homilies such as nonviolence, buoyed by the assistance of God, being the most potent of forces in the world.44 Gandhi asserted proprietary right over this science as “the author of satyagraha and general in satyagraha action,”45 the “sole authority on satyagraha” and the “most experienced satyagrahi.”46 He was uniquely privy to the mysteries of satyagraha;47 one could not argue with him about it—“I am confident that God has made me the instrument of showing the better way”;48 one could only march lock step—or elect not to—behind him.49 Gandhi eschewed all sectarian “isms,” including “Gandhism”—“I love to hear the words: ‘Down with Gandhism.’ An ‘ism’ deserves to be destroyed.”50 But the not altogether satisfying substitute he offered was a doctrine that often had the feel of autocratic whimsy. He had
an (as it were) party line not just on sexual abstinence but on “idle jokes” (opposed), “innocent pleasantries” (perhaps),51 and reading in the toilet (opposed). He sometimes sounds like Stalin pronouncing on linguistics, although deviationists might be banished from his Ashram but not deported to the Gulag.52

It further warrants notice that the better known aspects of Gandhi’s nonviolent doctrine such as civil disobedience and non-cooperation, which I will focus on in this lecture, were for him the least significant.53 He situated satyagraha in a matrix of practical, diurnal activities, what he called the “constructive program,”54 that formed the “foundation for civil disobedience.”55 Its constituents embraced ridding Hinduism of the “blot” of untouchability, fostering Hindu-Muslim unity, and promoting use on a mass scale of the spinning wheel (tcharka) and handspun cloth (khadi). On this (as it were) material basis, he believed, Indians could forge unbreakable bonds of unbounded love that transcended religious sect and class, thereby rendering political confrontation with Great Britain superfluous; complete independence (purna swaraj) would thence like a ripe fruit drop into India’s lap, and the nonviolent future of India would be safeguarded. “If we learn to love one another, if the gulf between Hindu and Muslim, caste and outcaste, and rich and poor is obliterated,” Gandhi predicted, “a handful of English would not dare to continue their rule over us.”56

All of which is to say, Gandhi would almost certainly fault my exercise in today’s lecture for denaturing his doctrine: a rational core of satyagraha cannot be extracted from the religious content coursing through it and the religious renaissance presupposing and ensuing from it. “It is impossible that a thing essentially of the soul,” he intoned, “can
be imparted through the intellect.”57 Nonetheless, speaking as a resolute nonbeliever and rationalist, I am convinced that he has something useful to say on the subject of nonviolent resistance. It will be for you to decide whether I am right.

What is satyagraha?

The “votary” of nonviolent civil resistance, according to Gandhi, “must not be violent in thought, word or deed,”58 in fact, must be “incapable of feeling or harboring anger.”59 The animating impulse of Gandhi’s doctrine is not however a negative “non”-principle but the affirmative or “active” principle of “unadulterated love—fellow-feeling,”60 which
in turn springs from “faith in the inherent goodness of human nature,”61 and the belief that “what holds good in respect of yourself holds good equally in respect of the whole universe. All mankind are alike.”62 Love, he professed, was the dominant factor in human existence—“Had violence, i.e., hate, ruled us, we should have become extinct
long ago”63—whereas the apparent omnipresence of violence is an optical illusion— “History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul.”64 Just as “families and even clans” manage to resolve conflicts nonviolently due to the binding powers of love, so can “humankind” which is “one big family.”65 Gandhi’s faith in the essential goodness of humankind stretched credulity to its limits. During World War II he wrote a “Dear Friend” letter to Hitler in which he averred not “to believe that you are the monster described by your opponents,” albeit acknowledging that “many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity.”66

Because love informs it, satyagraha excludes violence. It also eschews inflicting indirect, non-physical forms of coercion such as fear and “embarrassment.”67 Rather it should rely exclusively on the “self-purification” that comes of self-suffering—“the more innocent and pure the suffering the more potent it will be in its effect”68—to arouse from
its slumber the conscience of wrongdoers in order “to convert, not to coerce”69 them. In another iteration, he invests in the transforming powers not of self-suffering per se but the “upwelling of love and pity towards the wrongdoer.”70

Gandhi deplored resort to violence on both personal/moral and political/pragmatic grounds. It corrupts the individual who is degraded to the level of a beast—“That which distinguishes man from all other animals is his capacity to be nonviolent”71—but it also corrupts the goal of enlightened political action. However just the cause, because means
and ends are ineluctably intertwined—“The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree”72—the use of violence as a political weapon cannot but bring forth a power configuration in which the “strong and mighty” dominate and the “blind, the halt and the maimed” remain disenfranchised:73 “violence may destroy one or more bad rulers, but…others will pop up in their places.”74 Even—or especially—in the face of Axis aggression, the use of armed force was to be opposed because the Allies could inflict a defeat on the Axis only by becoming “stronger than they are, and therefore worse and
more ruthless”;75 “that would mean no deliverance from Nazism,”76 but “superior Nazism.”77 Victor will have become vanquished, while “such a victory must mean another preparation for a war more inhuman than the present, as this one had proved more inhuman than the last.”78 On both practical and theoretical levels, Gandhi’s argument is wanting. While hardly ideal, the Allied states emerging from World War II did not exactly mirror let alone surpass in brutality Nazi Germany. In addition, Gandhi postulates that nonviolent resistance could not produce inferior results to violent
resistance: “either the enemy comes to terms with you, then you win without blood; or the enemy annihilates you. This last solution is not worse than what a violent war in any case brings about.”79 He willfully ignores the real possibility that nonviolence will have failed to stop the Nazis, whereas violence, however costly, will have succeeded short of the Allies’ total annihilation. It is more difficult to counter Gandhi’s assertion that, once having imitated Nazi methods, a cause “cannot be called just”80—except to eke out exiguous distinctions between Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

Gandhi did not, however, unqualifiedly repudiate violence. Until and unless he converted others to his beliefs, Gandhi accepted the validity of current norms. Thus, while personally unable to condone it, he did acknowledge the legitimacy of resorting to violence in a righteous cause; “self-defense is everybody’s birthright.”81 In the face of personal insult, and “if you feel humiliated, you will be justified in slapping the bully in the face or taking whatever action you might deem necessary to vindicate your self-respect.”82 And although “not defending the Arab excesses” during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt in Palestine, and although “wishing they had chosen the way of nonviolence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country,” Gandhi nonetheless maintained that “according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming
odds.”83

However much he deplored violence, Gandhi did deem it much preferable to inaction in the face of injustice. Should one be incapable of nonviolently resisting an outrage, the only honorable option would be to resist violently, whereas flight would be wholly shameful. For, if there was one thing Gandhi detested more than violence, it was “mute
submissiveness”84—and what was yet worse, such submissiveness masquerading as nonviolent resistance. He regarded not violence but pusillanimity and effeminateness as the most contemptible of personal failings while he prized the virtues—which a true satyagrahi perforce nurtured—of courage and manliness: “The fundamental thing to be borne in mind is that people should, under no circumstances, be cowardly or impotent”; “it is unmanly to run away from danger.”85 Gandhi tersely defined the “aim of the satyagraha struggle” he led in South Africa as being “to infuse manliness in cowards.”86 In a scalding denunciation of ersatz nonviolence, and in a passage that might easily have been cribbed from Nietzsche, Gandhi lectured:

Nonviolence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die and has no power of
resistance. A helpless mouse is not nonviolent because he is always eaten by
pussy. He would gladly eat the murderess if he could, but he ever tries to flee
from her. We do not call him a coward, because he is made by nature to behave
no better than he does. But a man who, when faced by danger, behaves like a
mouse, is rightly called a coward. He harbors violence and hatred in his heart
and would kill his enemy if he could without being hurt himself. He is a stranger
to nonviolence. All sermonizing on it will be lost on him. Bravery is foreign to
his nature. Before he can understand nonviolence he has to be taught to stand
his ground and even suffer death in the attempt to defend himself against the
aggressor who bids fair to overwhelm him. To do otherwise would be to confirm
his cowardice and take him further away from nonviolence. Whilst I may not
actually help anyone to retaliate, I must not let a coward seek shelter behind
nonviolence so called. Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made many
have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue
compared to offering resistance, especially when it is fraught with danger to one’s
life. As a teacher of nonviolence I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard
against such an unmanly belief….Self-defense…is the only honorable course
where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.87

And again, in another Nietzschean flourish:

Hence I ask you, is our nonviolence the nonviolence of the coward, the weak, the helpless, the timid? In that case, it is of no value. A weakling is a born saint. A weak person is obliged to become a saint. But we are soldiers of
nonviolence, who, if the occasion demands, will lay down their lives for it. Our nonviolence is not a mere policy of the coward. But I doubt this. I am afraid that the nonviolence we boast of might really be only a policy. It is true that, to some extent, nonviolence works even in the hands of the weak. And, in this manner, this weapon has been useful to us. But, if one makes use of nonviolence in order to disguise one’s weakness…, it makes a coward of one. Such a person is defeated on both fronts. Such a one cannot live like a man and the Devil he surely cannot become. It is a thousand times better that we die trying to acquire the strength of arm[s]. Using physical force with courage is far superior to cowardice. At least we would have attempted to act like men.88

For I cannot in any case stand cowardice. Let no one say when I am gone that I taught the people to be cowards. If you think my ahimsa [nonviolence] amounts to that, or leads you to that, you should reject it without hesitation. I would far rather that you died bravely dealing a blow and receiving a blow than died in abject terror.…Fleeing from battle…is cowardice, and unworthy of a warrior. An armed fighter is known to have sought fresh arms as soon as he loses those in
his possession or they lose their efficacy. He leaves the battle to get them. A nonviolent warrior knows no leaving the battle. He rushes into the mouth of himsa [violence], never even once harboring an evil thought. If this ahimsa seems to you to be impossible, let us be honest with ourselves and say so, and give it up….Cowardice is worse than violence because cowards can never be nonviolent. So such people should learn to defend themselves….A person who has full faith in nonviolence should be a thousand times more fearless than an armed man….It is the duty of every believer in ahimsa to see that cowardice is not propagated in the name of nonviolence.

My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes. Nonviolence is the summit of bravery. And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harbored violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice. Those Hindus who ran away from the post of duty when it was attended with danger did so not because they were nonviolent, or because they were afraid to strike, but because they were unwilling to die or even suffer any injury. A rabbit that runs away
from the bull terrier is not particularly nonviolent. The poor thing trembles at the sight of the terrier and runs for very life. Those Hindus who ran away to save their lives would have been truly nonviolent and would have covered themselves with glory and added luster to their faith and won the friendship of their Mussalman assailants, if they had stood bare breast with smiles on their lips, and died at their post. They would have done less well, though still well, if they had stood at these posts and returned blow for blow. If the Hindus wish to convert the Mussalman bully into a respecting friend, they have to learn to die in the face of the heaviest odds.

I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise
violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present
when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me
killed or whether he should have used his physical force, which he could and wanted to use, and
defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence….Hence…do
I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather
have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner
become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor. But I believe that nonviolence is
infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment….But abstinence is
forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless where it pretends to proceed
from a helpless creature. A mouse hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces
by her.

Gandhi heaped praise on the “reckless courage” that soldiers displayed in battle and wanted “to learn…the art of throwing away my life for a noble cause”89; on the “example of Sparta,” because “though they were an armed people and also few, they laid down their lives but would not leave their places”;90 and on the typical “Pathan [Pashtun] boy”
because he is “fearless. If there is bloodshed he does not hide himself in his house. He finds pleasure in fighting. He does not stop to think that he might be injured or even killed. He is never afraid of being hurt. I have seen one standing unmoved in the midst of blood gushing from his many wounds.”91 On the other hand, Gandhi (mistakenly)
criticized the German Jews for pretending to nonviolence yet nourishing violent revenge on the Nazis (“There is no nonviolence in their hearts. Their nonviolence, if it may be so called, is of the helpless and the weak”),92 and the cowardice of his disciples who elected milder to evade severer sanctions (“The nonviolence of the person who went to jail to avoid a worse fate harmed him and disgraced the cause which he used as a shelter to escape death”).93 But he also freely conceded in poignant detail his own failure to rise to the heroic standard he set.94

In addition, Gandhi rejected nonviolence borne of weakness as being politically ineffectual. If the votaries of nonviolence abjure force only from dread of violent retaliation, then the wrongdoer has every right to dread what might ensue should they attain power and acquire its instruments. In order to convince the wrongdoer that one’s nonviolence was not born of weakness, one needed manifest a willingness to forego violence even when no prospect of violent retaliation impended, say, where the votaries of nonviolence outnumbered and outgunned the wrongdoer. The nonviolence
of “India as a nation…is that of the weak,” Gandhi lamented. “If she were nonviolent in the consciousness of her strength, Englishmen would lose their role of distrustful conquerors….If we, as Indians, could but for a moment visualize ourselves as a strong people disdaining to strike, we should cease to fear Englishmen whether as
soldiers, traders or administrators, and they to distrust us.”95 And again: “The moment Englishmen feel that although they are in India in a hopeless minority, their lives are protected against harm not because of the matchless weapons of destruction which are at their disposal, but because Indians refuse to take the lives even of those whom they may
consider to be utterly in the wrong, that moment will see a transformation in the English nation in its relation to India.”96 Yet, it would appear that practical realities—think of inmates in a concentration camp—would often preclude such a demonstration of strength. It will also be noticed Gandhi’s naïve premise that the fundamental barrier dividing
British and Indians was psychological (“fear”) and not a material clash of interests.

In any event, on both personal/moral and political/pragmatic grounds, Gandhi insisted that true nonviolent resistance had to be yet more brave and strong than violent resistance: only such nonviolence could redeem its votary and convert the wrongdoer. “An army of nonviolence exposes itself to all the risks that an army of violence does,” he declared. “Only the latter expects to retaliate even when it is not the aggressor. An army of nonviolence runs risks without the wish to retaliate”;97 “I believe that a man is the strongest soldier for daring to die unarmed with his breast bare before the enemy.”98 Such an “army” had to accept—indeed embrace—the prospect of mutely subjecting itself to mass slaughter.99 Into the valley of death it must headlong march, unarmed yet “smilingly”100 and “cheerfully”;101 “if we are to train ourselves to receive the bullet wounds or bayonet charges in our bare chests, we must accustom ourselves to standing unmoved in the face of cavalry or baton charges.”102 “Wherein is courage required,” he rhetorically asked, “in blowing others to pieces from behind a cannon or with a smiling face to approach a cannon and to be blown to pieces? Who is the true warrior—he who keeps death always as a bosom-friend or he who controls the death of others?”103 “What I shall expect of you,” he lectured the “officers” of his army, “is that even if someone subjects you to the most inhuman tortures, you will joyfully face the ordeal and make the supreme sacrifice with God’s name on your lips and without a trace of fear or anger or thoughts of revenge in your hearts.”104 And in a macabre peroration, he avowed, “That nation is great which rests its head upon death as its pillow.”105 It might be said of Gandhi that he created a cult of the dead. “Whilst therefore I tender my sympathy to the parents of the two brave lads who lost their lives,” he said following the murder of these disciples,

my inmost desire is to congratulate them for the finished sacrifices of their sons, if they would accept my congratulations. A warrior’s death is never a matter of sorrow, still less that of a satyagrahi warrior. One of the lessons that a nation yearning for freedom needs to learn is to shed several fears of losing title, wealth, position, fear of imprisonment, of bodily injury and lastly of death.106

How satyagraha works

Although he asserted that satyagraha was not just nonviolent but also non-coercive, the means Gandhi deployed in his civil resistance campaigns actually ranged on a continuum alloying coercion and abnegation.107 At one pole was what he called “non-cooperation” that rendered society ungovernable for political elites108 and enterprises insolvent for economic elites. Insofar as the satyagrahi faced the loss of a paycheck, punitive sanctions, even internment and death, non-cooperation also entailed varying degrees of self-suffering.109 At the opposite extreme was a tactic such as fasting which plainly contained a large component of self-suffering but which was also coercive, however vehemently Gandhi might deny this.110 Occupying the middle ground between these poles were various forms of civil disobedience, which contained equal parts coerciveness (breaking the law) and self-suffering (going to jail, paying fines). In the
ensuing remarks I put to one side a very powerful if latent form of violence lurking in all of Gandhi’s activities, which he was fully aware of and which he fully exploited: if the British didn’t acquiesce in his nonviolence, they would have to cope with wholesale violent resistance: “I have claimed in private correspondence with English friends that it is because of my incessant preaching of the gospel of nonviolence and my having successfully demonstrated its practical utility that so far the forces of violence, which are undoubtedly in existence…, have remained under complete control.”111

The coercive potency of non-cooperation such as a general strike for getting the lords of the land to see the light requires little elucidation.112 Gandhi stressed that even non-cooperation “must have its roots in love. Its object should not be to punish the opponent or to inflict injury upon him….we must make him feel that in us he has a friend and we should try to reach his heart.”113 And again: “We do want to paralyze the Government considered as a system—not, however, by intimidation, but by the irresistible pressure of our innocence.”114 He did allow that as a “practical” matter even if non-cooperation sprang from the “nonviolence of the weak”—i.e., not from love but from fear of violent retribution—it could still be efficacious “if a sufficient number of people practice it.”115 But Gandhi adamantly refused to concede that, however much “love” and “innocence” might assuage the abrasiveness of a conflict,116 it remains that the operative factor at play in non-cooperation is coercive.117

The focus of Gandhi’s creed, however, was the transformative power of pristine self-suffering, and here yet more problems arise. He believed that such suffering would put on public display the “human dignity”118 of the victim and thereby “quicken the conscience,” 119 strike a “sympathetic chord,”120 and “evoke by his truth and love expressed through his suffering” the “inherent goodness of human nature”;121 “the world is touched by sacrifice,”122 “it can tame the wildest beast, certainly the wildest man.”123 The satyagrahi will then be well-placed to “mobilize public opinion against the evil which he is out to eradicate, by means of a wide and intensive agitation”;124 “success is the certain result of suffering of the extremist character, voluntarily undergone.”125

It is not clear however why suffering in and of itself—or, for that matter, allied with “love”—would convert the alleged wrongdoer. Were the “pro-life” half of the American population to engage in civil disobedience or even a fast unto the death, the “pro-choice” half would hardly be converted by such a spectacle. For, it is not suffering alone that touches but suffering in the pursuit of a legitimate goal. The recognition of the legitimacy of such a goal presumes however a preexisting consensus according to which what the victim seeks he justly deserves. Gandhi accordingly referred to the victim’s “innocence.”126 It is innocence in a double sense: of means—the victim’s suffering results from unilateral violence inflicted by others—and of ends—the victim seeks a right that cannot in good conscience be denied because it jibes with the “normal moral sense of the world”;127 the more incontrovertible the ends, the more self-suffering as a means will resonate with “enlightened public opinion.”128 In this light it is to be doubted the efficacy of self-suffering before wrongdoers who are convinced, either due to an inimical interest or inimical ideology or—what’s often the case—both, that the demands of the victim lack justice. Gandhi himself acknowledges that his adversary might be as convinced in the rightness of his opinions as Gandhi is of his own (“I realize what may appear to me prejudice may be enlightenment to others”);129 that he must be open to the possibility that his interlocutor might be right and he wrong (“The royal road of nonviolence consists of…willingness to understand another’s point of view with an unprejudiced mind”);130 and that in any event a sincerely-held opinion cannot easily be dislodged (“It is difficult to combat an honest belief, however erroneous it may be”).131 But then why should one suppose that the alleged wrongdoer will be converted by the suffering of those in pursuit of an admittedly doubtful goal? On its own, self-suffering might induce some degree of pity but it surely won’t induce fundamental concessions. Gandhi makes the commendable point that if the goal turns out to be mistaken, one’s suffering will have done no harm to the alleged wrongdoer: “He does not make others suffer for his mistakes.”132 But it does not alter the fact that hardened self-interest or ideology will almost certainly stifle the voice, inner or outer, of justice. The point I want to make here finds vivid illustration in this passage from Gandhi: “Our triumph consists in thousands being led to the prisons like lambs to the slaughter-house. If the lambs of the world had been willingly led, they would have long ago saved themselves from the butcher’s knife. Our triumph consists again in being imprisoned for no wrong whatsoever. The greater our innocence, the greater our strength and the swifter our victory.”133 If the injustice is morally assimilable, then innocence can, and likely will, prick the conscience. But did millions of innocent Jews being led to the crematoria “like lambs to the slaughter-house” prick the Nazi conscience? It might be said that they did not go voluntarily—theirs was “nonviolence of the weak” (under the circumstances how could it be otherwise?)—but if the Nazis could morally rationalize the extermination of one million Jewish children—whose innocence of means and ends could be purer?—it is probable that they would also have rationalized self-immolation.

I will now illustrate these propositions on consensus, interest and ideology with Gandhi’s key political interventions during the period I have concentrated on for this lecture:

Discrimination and immorality. Gandhi expressly launched his satyagraha campaigns for social reform in the knowledge that a majority—however latent—supported his agenda. The point of the campaign was not to create ex nihilo a constituency, but through self-suffering to “quicken the conscience” of an already existent broad consensus, “cultivating and ascertaining the opinion” of this natural constituency, and thereby bringing to bear the “force of public opinion.”134 Thus, in undertaking to remove the “blot” of untouchability by opening the doors of Hindu temples to the Harijans (“children of God”),135 Gandhi presumed that a majority of Hindus supported such a reform but needed the stimulus of satyagraha—fasting, picketing, prayers—to act finally on their consciences: “The whole idea of my fast is based on the belief that a large section of the people favor temple-entry, but they do not voice it.”136 (To be sure, the campaign against untouchability turned brutal and bloody, Gandhi meanwhile declaring, “Loss even of a few hundred lives will not be too great a price to pay for the freedom of the ‘untouchables.’ Only the martyrs must die clean.”)137 Likewise, in his campaign to rid India of the scourge of alcoholic consumption, Gandhi banked on the
belief that “public opinion” could be consolidated around such a reform.138 When challenged why he did not also wage campaigns to rid India of other morally debasing indulgences such as gambling and the cinema, Gandhi candidly responded, “The drink evil has been recognized as such by the people of this land. But the other evils are more or less fashionable.”139 And again: “These vices were fashionable and therefore were not capable of being dealt with like prohibition. I claim to be a practical reformer. I know almost instinctively what vices are ripe for being publicly dealt with.”140 Put otherwise, absent a prior consensus no amount of self-suffering would move public opinion to do the right thing. Gandhi did also profess that self-suffering would “finally break the wall of prejudice”141 of those violently opposed to his social reforms—“the hardest heart and the grossest ignorance,” “the stoniest heart of the stoniest fanatic”142—and “melt the hearts” of those profiting from vice.143 Yet, the thrust of his campaigns was clearly to energize a latently sympathetic public via self-suffering, and utilize this “force of public opprobrium”144 in order to democratically overrule or socially isolate or force the capitulation of or reach a principled compromise with145 the diehards.

Economic inequality. Gandhi cast himself as the voice of India’s impoverished “dumb millions”:146 “I unhesitatingly say that I am a people’s man. Every moment of my life I feel for the starving millions. I live and am prepared to lay down my life to relieve their sufferings and mitigate their miseries.”147 He conceived swaraj as not just political independence (“mere transfer of power”), but “complete deliverance of the toiling yet starving millions from the dreadful evil of economic serfdom” and “independence of the poorest and the lowliest in the land”; “unless poverty and unemployment are wiped out from India, I would not agree that we have attained freedom.”148 He also adopted a stringent, austere code of what constituted just deserts in a well-ordered society: “A thing not originally stolen must nevertheless be classified as stolen property if we possess it without needing it”; “each man shall have the wherewithal to supply all his natural needs and no more”; “all amassing or hoarding of wealth, above and beyond one’s legitimate requirements, was theft.”149 Eliminating “the cruel inequality that obtains today” 150 constituted a prerequisite for eliminating societal violence: “A nonviolent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists.”151

However, as against the demand of Indian socialists and communists to expropriate large property-holders and nationalize the means of production, Gandhi championed the “theory of trusteeship,” according to which large property holders would be persuaded through nonviolent civil resistance to use their “excess”152 wealth for the betterment of society; “I do not believe that the capitalists and landlords are all exploiters by an inherent necessity or that there is a basic or irreconcilable antagonism between their interests and those of the masses.”153 I will not here argue the merits of Gandhi’s alternative,154 but rather the practicability of the means he proposes for realizing it. Occasionally Gandhi invests in the power of the laborers’ self-abnegation to convert property-owners from ruthless exploiters to enlightened guardians. The property-owners will come to realize after “kind”155 gestures that they should not “squander [their] gains in luxurious or extravagant living, but must use them” for the poor:156 “If we treat these rich people with decency, they would fulfill the expectations we have of them”; “If we win their confidence and put them at their ease we will find that they are not averse to progressively sharing their riches with the masses”; “We should struggle against them in the same way and for the same reason, as lovingly and reluctantly and with as much
respect and politeness as we do against our blood-relations.”157 Moreover, he makes out that the irrational “fear and distrust” of the rich are the sole barriers to reconciliation with the poor.158 But when pressed hard Gandhi conceded that no precedent exists for his trusteeship proposal and that it was based on a giant leap of faith.159 Indeed, aren’t
capitalists convinced—and, for all anyone knows, rightly—that the system is fair, rewarding the enterprising few and penalizing the slothful many? However, Gandhi also instructs workers to organize and mobilize—that is, to realize their latent power—in order to get property-owners to equitably distribute their ill-gotten gains: “What is necessary is that laborers or workers should know their rights and should also know how to assert them”; “When the workers are better organized and more self-sacrificing, their power would grow. You are not conscious of your strength and therefore you are oppressed”; “As soon as laborers are properly educated and organized and they realize their strength, no amount of capital can subdue them. Organized and enlightened labor can dictate its own terms.”160 If the “rich” cannot be persuaded “to become guardians of the poor in the true sense of the term and the latter are more and more crushed and die of hunger,” then Gandhi advocated “nonviolent non-cooperation and civil disobedience as the right and infallible means”: “The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor in society.”161 What Gandhi refused to acknowledge, however, is that although he abjured “so-called class-conflict,” counseling instead that “landlords and
capitalists” be “persuaded and converted,”162 his practical prescription ultimately relied not on the beneficence of self-suffering but on the coercion of raw (if nonviolent) power.

Aggression and occupation. In order to combat Axis aggression during World War II Gandhi advised conquered nations to lay down their arms and simply refuse to cooperate with the occupiers. Once the Axis powers realized that they could not make profitable use of the annexed territories without the enslaved population’s acquiescence they would withdraw: in the face of “quiet, dignified and nonviolent defiance,” the “tyrant will not find it worth his while to go on with his terrorism,” and “he would certainly have been obliged to retire.” Here was a tactic that made ultimate appeal not to the consciences or hearts of the occupiers163 but their balance-sheets, i.e., rational self-interest.164 Where achievement of Axis goals required not the cooperation but removal of the occupied
populations, or their outright extermination,165 Gandhi alternatively professed that self-suffering could “melt”166 even Hitler’s heart, because “human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love.”167 Yet, if Hitler was genuinely persuaded of the necessity of lebensraum and the lethal iniquity of the Jews,
why should suffering allied to love convert him? Gandhi himself was apparently less than fully convinced of the efficacy of his tactic—at any rate in the here and now— for he also counseled Jews to go if need be mutely to their deaths, and believed that such a dignified demise would be their ultimate salvation: “If the Jewish mind could
be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre [of Jews by Hitler]…could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For the God-fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long
sleep.”168 Perhaps so, but if the goal was to melt Hitler’s heart in the promise of earthly deliverance, then self-suffering must be reckoned a colossal failure.169 Of course, it might be argued that whatever recourse European Jewry made its fate was sealed while nonviolent resistance would have been most redemptive.170 But that is a matter apart
from whether self-suffering is a viable tactic against ideological fanatics.

In this context it merits recalling that Gandhi’s nemesis in the epic struggle for Indian independence, Winston Churchill, was hardly persuaded by Indian suffering to dismantle the British Empire. Between interest-cum-ideology on the one side, and the suffering of the Indian masses on the other, the former proved decisive.171 “The English Ministers are pursuing what they believe to be an honest policy,” Gandhi acknowledged. “It is their honest belief that British rule in India has been, on the whole, for her good. They honestly believe that under it India has advanced.”172 Should it then surprise that— contrary to Gandhi’s expectations—the self-suffering of Indians manifestly failed to
touch British imperialists or that it failed to get “British commerce with India…purified of greed” and put on “terms of mutual help and…equally suited to both”?173 To be sure, although Gandhi spoke of wanting to “convert the administrators of the system,” he nonetheless qualified, “the conversion may or may not be willing.”174 And again: “to
convert them or, if you will, even to drive them out of the country.”175 In fact, he conceived the struggle against British imperialism in terms of making India ungovernable through a combination of nonviolence, which neutralized British bayonets by rendering use of them an embarrassment, and non-cooperation, which nullified British authority by
flouting it: “Whether we convert them or not, we are determined to make their rule impossible by nonviolent non-cooperation”;176 “If, notwithstanding their desire to the contrary, they saw that their guns and everything they had created for the consolidation of their authority were useless because of our non-use of them, they could not do
otherwise than bow to the inevitable and either retire from the scene, or remain on our terms, i.e., as friends to co-operate with us, not as rulers to impose their will upon us.”177 However much he professed otherwise,178 Gandhi did not endeavor to “quicken the conscience” of British imperialists but rather to coerce them, albeit nonviolently, into submission through “force of will.”179 But it is also true that he held out the hope of the “conversion” of the British “nation”—i.e., “public opinion”—through self-suffering: “I have deliberately used the word conversion. For my ambition is no less than to convert the British people through nonviolence, and thus make them see the wrong they have done to India” (emphasis in original).180 The imperialists might have to be driven out, but the conscience of the people might yet be pricked. Indeed, British public opinion could serve as a critical weapon for coercing dyed-in-the-wool British
imperialists to leave India.

III. What can supporters of a just peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict learn from Gandhi?

Before answering this question, a few preliminary remarks are in order. Neither I nor anyone else has the right to tell Palestinians that they must renounce violent means to end the occupation. As already noted, during the Arab Revolt in the 1930s Gandhi asserted that “according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against
the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.” I cannot see grounds for revising this judgment, except to note that the “accepted canons” today would mean the current laws of war (e.g., the inadmissibility of targeting civilians). In fact, if they cannot find the moral reserves to practice nonviolence, according to Gandhi, then it is not only the
right but the duty of Palestinians to hit back, and hit back hard, those who have wrecked their lives and violated their persons. Palestinians are not obliged to acquiesce in assaults on their human dignity; quite the contrary, they have a responsibility to defend their dignity against such assaults, nonviolently if they can, violently if they must. It might also be recalled that for Gandhi “no greater evil can befall a country than that it should lose its independence.”181 If I propose that Palestinians adopt Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolent civil resistance, it is not because they should be held—or hold themselves— accountable to a higher ethical standard, but rather because of a compelling pragmatic insight of his. There is nothing violence can accomplish, Gandhi maintained, that nonviolence cannot accomplish—and with lesser loss of life. As a general proposition, it is obviously impossible to prove. Could the Allies have defeated Hitler had they resorted to nonviolent civil resistance, and with fewer than 60 million dead? We will never know. On the other hand, Palestinians suffered some 5,000 dead (1,000 minors) during the second intifada, and the Israelis 1,000 dead (160 minors). Apart from the dubious blessing of Israel’s redeployment in Gaza, Palestinians have little to show for the violent resistance; indeed, nearly all the reckonings after eight years of bloodletting fall squarely in the debit column. It is at least arguable that the balance-sheet would have been better
had Palestinians en masse adopted nonviolent civil resistance.

But didn’t Palestinians embrace this strategy during the first intifada, and didn’t it fail? True, the first intifada was overwhelmingly nonviolent,182 although Israel hardly responded in kind.183 However, it is fundamentally mistaken to reckon the uprising a failure. The surpassing courage, integrity, humanity, solidarity and sheer cleverness of the Palestinian people during those years—which I had the unforgettable honor of personally witnessing—threw the Israeli occupation army into professional, morale and moral disarray from which it has never fully recovered,184 while Israel’s brutal methods of repression caused it to suffer a public relations disaster of the first magnitude.185 If the Palestinian leadership under Yasir Arafat had not subverted the first intifada, stifling its élan and subordinating it to a dead-end diplomatic game, the outcome might have been different. As it was, Israel entered into negotiations with the PLO and subsequently signed the Oslo Accord because the intifada had rendered the occupation untenable except through the conscription of Palestinian collaborators.186

We have already seen that a crucial prerequisite for the successful prosecution of nonviolent resistance is a preexisting public consensus on the legitimacy of its goals. We have also seen that such a consensus has crystallized in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The international community has enjoined Israel’s full withdrawal from the territories it occupied in June 1967 and a resolution of the refugee question based on the right of return and compensation. The challenge now—in Gandhi’s words—is to “cultivate” and “quicken” the conscience of this public. In practical terms, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories would have to rivet international public opinion on the brutality of the occupation by resorting to nonviolent civil resistance; in the meantime their supporters abroad must publicize the factual record showing that international opinion—whether registered in its most representative bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, or its most enlightened bodies such as the International Court of Justice and respected human rights organizations—agrees on how to resolve the conflict, and that the only obstacles to its settlement are Israel and the United States.

It must be said here that significant lessons can be learned from the history of Zionism. The Zionist movement made sure that each of the documents that conferred—or appeared to confer—international legitimacy became a veritable household reference. Its leaders grasped how critical such legitimacy was in winning over public opinion and thereby achieving their goal. Were it not for the concerted and sustained campaign of Zionist publicists, it is inconceivable that a one-sentence declaration uttered 90 years ago by a nondescript British foreign minister named Arthur Balfour, or a United Nations General Assembly resolution passed 60 years ago recommending the partition of Palestine, would still command near-universal recognition. Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban famously said of the Partition Resolution that it was Israel’s “birth certificate.” He did not exaggerate. It ascertained that the State of Israel was not a bastard child of the international system but rather its legitimate and—at any rate, morally—irrevocable offspring. It might also be noticed that the Zionist movement never rested on its laurels. Just as it required discipline and organization to extract each of its certificates of legitimacy, so it also required tenacity to preserve these gains. Neither the Balfour Declaration nor the Partition Resolution came easy, and renewed battles ensued after both victories against powerful forces that wanted to rescind them.187 The contrast with the Palestinian independence struggle could not be starker. Each year the United Nations General Assembly issues the Palestinian people yet another birth certificate. The General Assembly is far more representative of humankind today than it was in 1947, and the vote favoring a Palestinian state is consistently lopsided whereas the Partition Resolution just barely passed. In addition, on nearly all the critical issues—borders, East Jerusalem, settlements—the Palestinians won a resounding victory and Israel suffered a resounding defeat in the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. Considered as a certificate of legitimacy the near-unanimous ICJ opinion manifestly carried far greater weight than the unilateral declaration of a British government. Yet—and herein lies the great tragedy—how many people even know of the annual General Assembly votes and the ICJ opinion? These landmark victories, achieved largely due to the inhuman suffering and superhuman steadfastness of the Palestinian people, have been criminally squandered one after another.

A massive mobilization of Palestinians building on the non-cooperation tactics of the first intifada (commercial and tax strikes, popular committees) could again make the Israeli occupation ungovernable. Is it so far-fetched to imagine an “army” of Palestinian satyagrahis converging on the Wall, their sole “weapons” a pick in one hand and a copy of the ICJ opinion in the other? The ICJ stated that the Wall was illegal and must be dismantled. The Palestinians would only be doing what the world should already have done a long time ago. Who could fault them for enforcing the law? No doubt Israel would fire on Palestinians and many would be killed. But if their supporters in North America and Europe publicized the ICJ opinion, and if Palestinians found the inner wherewithal to persevere nonviolently, it seems probable that far, far fewer than 5,000 Palestinians would be killed before Israel were forced to desist. No one writing abroad from the comfort and safety of his study can in good conscience urge such a strategy that entails so much death. But Gandhi’s point nonetheless stands: if Palestinians have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay the ultimate price, doesn’t it make sense for them to pursue a strategy that has a better likelihood of success at a smaller human price?

A high profile publicity campaign in the West complementing nonviolent Palestinian civil resistance in the Occupied Territories would enhance the prospects of its success. If the campaign targeted Israeli intransigence as the sole obstacle to a settlement, it would pave the way for making of Israel a pariah state, and then the implementation
of sanctions against it. The tenability of such a sanctions campaign depends, however, on international public opinion being first (or simultaneously) primed with knowledge of both the consensus for resolving the conflict and Israel’s refusal to abide it. Such a campaign also cannot possibly succeed if Palestinian goals do not command international
legitimacy, such as the occasional calls for eliminating the “Zionist entity” and embracing a “one-state” solution, which enjoy exactly zero international support. Again, innocence of means does not suffice; innocence of ends is also requisite. One might want to counter that the consensus is not the solution but part of the problem, and must
be changed. Perhaps so, but then Palestinians suffering under occupation should be informed that they will have to endure it for many more generations to come. For, it is no small task to reconfigure enlightened public opinion where legitimacy is largely built on precedent. Every call for a Palestinian state (including the 1988 Palestinian declaration of independence) has referred back to the unfinished business of the Partition Resolution. Where is the legal or moral precedent for dismantling the “Zionist entity”—the birth certificate of which was signed by the United Nations—or a “one-state” solution— which the Partition Resolution superseded? It required 70 years of Zionist colonization and organizational will, the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations mandate, the Nazi holocaust, and the decline of the British Empire to create a global mandate for the Partition Resolution. It would take a comparable summoning of human and material resources, and fortuitous constellation and alignment of historical circumstances, to undo it.

A nonviolent civil disobedience campaign in the Occupied Territories garnering visible international support will almost certainly open up fissures in Israeli society. To be sure, the Palestinians will perforce be practicing a “nonviolence of the weak.” If they (again) resort to nonviolence, it will not be because they “love” their Israeli oppressors, but because violent resistance failed. It must be conceded that herein lies a drawback of Palestinian nonviolence. For, Israelis will not be convinced that Palestinians, once acquiring the machinery of a state and the accouterments of power, won’t use them against Israel. From the outset they will know that Palestinian nonviolence is not an axiom but—to quote Gandhi—“mere policy.” Nonetheless, Gandhi acknowledged that, although Indians themselves had practiced a “nonviolence of the weak,” the tactic was still able to produce positive (if somewhat limited) results. Those sectors of Israeli society cultivating a liberal self-image will perforce be shamed by the “force of public opprobrium” in the West. Many other Israelis will simply calculate on grounds of self-interest: if anarchy reigns in the Occupied Territories, if the occupation army gets bogged down in an intractable war of nerves with peaceful demonstrators, if, like South Africa and South Africans during the Apartheid era, Israel and Israelis are reviled
abroad, then the occupation is no longer worth the price. No doubt the diehards in Israeli society won’t budge. The self-suffering of Palestinians will no more “melt” the hearts of the ideological settlers and the generals than the self-suffering of Indians melted Churchill’s heart or the self-suffering of Jews would have melted Hitler’s heart.
But a critical mass favoring a full Israeli withdrawal presumably would bring forth an Israeli leader ready and able to pull out, just as in France during the Algerian war.

Gandhi translated satyagraha as “hold on to the truth.” Herewith is our challenge: to hold on to the truth that what Israel has done to the Palestinians is wrong; to hold on to the truth that Israel’s refusal, backed by the U.S., to respect international law and the considered opinion of humankind is the sole obstacle to putting an end, finally, to their suffering. We can win if we hold on to the truth, and if, as the Negro spiritual put it with cognate wisdom, we “keep our eyes on the prize, and hold on.” That is, if we keep remembering what the struggle—the prize—is all about: not theoretical fad or intellectual provocation, not holier-than-thou radical posturing, but—however humdrum, however
prosaic, by comparison—freeing the Palestinian people from their bondage. And then to hold on, to be ready for sacrifice and for the long haul—do I dare mention the example of Hezbollah’s heroic resistance?—but also, and especially, to be humble in the knowledge that for those of us living in North America and Europe, the burdens pale next to those borne daily by the people of Palestine. Whenever I harbor doubts about holding on, whenever I contemplate moving on in life, I see in my mind’s eye a dear friend and comrade who lives in Hebron where he is the field representative for an Israeli-based human rights organization, and hear his words in my head. My friend Musa, who grew
up in a refugee camp, told me once, “The past 38 years should have been the best in my life. But I honestly cannot remember a single happy day.” To forsake those trapped in abject distress would be yet more wrong. Where was the world during the Nazi holocaust?, we still ask. Where is the world now? Has the Palestinian struggle gone on too long? Has it become boring and passé? Has the time come to move on? But the Palestinian people continue to be ground under, the merciless Israeli juggernaut keeps pressing on, confiscating yet more land, demolishing yet more homes, destroying yet
more lives. The time now is not to move on—but to hold on!

The Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire once wrote, “There’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.” Late in life, when his political horizons broadened out, Edward Said would often quote this line. We should make it our credo as well. We want to nurture a movement, not hatch a cult. The victory to which we aspire is inclusive, not exclusive; it is not at anyone’s expense. It is to be victorious without vanquishing. No one is a loser, and we all are gainers if together we stand by truth and justice. “I am not anti-English; I am not anti-British; I am not anti-any government,” Gandhi insisted, “but I am anti-untruth—anti-humbug, and anti-injustice.”188 Shouldn’t we also say that we are not anti-Jewish, anti-Israel or, for that matter, anti-Zionist? The prize on which our eyes should be riveted is human rights, human dignity, human equality. What, really, is the point of ideological litmus tests such as, Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist? Indeed, it is Israel’s apologists who thrive on and cling to them, bogging down interlocutors in distracting and endless intellectual sideshows—What is a Jew? Are the Jews a nation? Don’t Jews have a right to national liberation? Shouldn’t we use a vocabulary that registers and resonates with the public conscience and the Jewish conscience, winning over the decent many while isolating the diehard few? Shouldn’t we instead be asking, Are you for or against ethnic cleansing, for or against torture, for or against house demolitions, for or against Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements, for or against discriminatory laws? And if the answer comes, against, against and against, shouldn’t we then say, Keep your ideology, whatever it might be—there’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory?

May we all, seekers of truth, fighters for justice, yet live to join the people of Palestine at the rendezvous of victory.

Thank you.

Norman G. Finkelstein
New York City
November 2008

For extensive documentation, see Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history, updated edition with a new preface (Berkeley: 2008), pp. 323-55, and Norman G. Finkelstein: A Farewell to Israel: The coming break-up of American Zionism (forthcoming). For the critical background, see esp. Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston: 1983), chap. 3.


For extensive analysis of the ICJ opinion and full references, see Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 227-270.


Christmas truce

by Mark Esposito During the miserable trench warfare of WWI, a night of humanity offered some hope of peace. Arthur Conan Doyle called it “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” If Christmas means anything, it surely means this: Christmas … Continue reading

by Mark Esposito

During the miserable trench warfare of WWI, a night of humanity offered some hope of peace. Arthur Conan Doyle called it “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” If Christmas means anything, it surely means this:

Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.

The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .

Then we replied.

O come all ye faithful . . . .

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

Adeste fideles . . . .

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your Loving Brother,
Tom

Source: Australia Magazine


LONDON, England — Bertie Felstead, the last known survivor of World War 1′s legendary “Soccer Truce,” has died in England, aged 106.

survivor3.jpgThe brief truce on Christmas Day 1914, when British and German soldiers emerged from their trenches on the Western Front and played football together in no-man’s land, became one of the abiding images of the “war to end all wars.”

Felstead was one of the infantrymen who took part in the unofficial ceasefire, exchanging cigarettes and greetings with men who only a few hours before had been trying to kill him.

“The Germans started it,” Mr. Felstead recalled. “They just came out of their trenches and walked over to us. “Nobody decided for us — we just climbed over our parapet and went over to them. We thought nobody would shoot at us if we all mingled together.”

Born in Highgate, London, on October 28, 1894, Mr. Felstead joined the Royal Welch Fusilliers at the outbreak of World War 1. He was spending his first Christmas on the Western Front, in a trench near the northern French village of Laventie, when the famous truce took place, one of several that were reported between British and German troops at that time.

Although it lasted for less than an hour, it became the defining event of his life.

In an interview two years ago he recalled how the previous night, Christmas Eve, he and his comrades had heard the German soldiers singing carols less than 100 yards away. The British soldiers had responded with carols of their own. “You couldn’t hear each other sing like that without it affecting your feelings for the other side,” he said.

On Christmas Day “all the soldiers were shouting to one another: ‘Hello Tommy! Hello Fritz!’ And we gradually got to know each other this way.” After they had emerged from their trenches and greeted each other a ball was produced and they all played football in the snow.

“It wasn’t a game as such,” remembered Felstead. “More a kick-around and a free-for-all. “There could have been fifty on each side for all I know.”

The impromptu armistice came to an abrupt end when an irate British officer ordered the soldiers back to their trenches. Within a matter of hours the two sides were firing at each other again.

Felstead was subsequently wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After recovering he was posted to Salonika in Greece before eventually being returned home with acute malaria.

After the war he worked as a civil servant with the Royal Air Force, and later with the General Electric Company. His wife of 65 years, Alice, died in 1983.

He is survived by two children, five grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. In 1997 he was included in the book “Centurions” about the most culturally influential people of the 20th Century.

“He lived a very good, full and active life,” said his daughter Barbara McIntosh, 73. “He will be sorely missed.”

The Associated Press


I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world.For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.–Wilfred Owen, 1918.

Recreates the temporary cessation of hostilities in the trenches of the Western Front in December 1914, including the famous football match between the British and German troops,and the repercussions among the generals.

Several first-hand accounts from both sides are recorded on this site: HELLFIRE CORNER – The Christmas Truce- 1914.

Also worth reading is this LewRockwell.com article, Soldiers Against War by John V. Denson

Captain Sir Edward Hulse of the Scots Guards, in his famous account, remembered the approach of four unarmed Germans at 08.30. He went out to meet them with one of his ensigns. ‘Their spokesmen,’ Hulse wrote, ‘started off by saying that he thought it only right to come over and wish us a happy Christmas, and trusted us implicitly to keep the truce. He came from Suffolk where he had left his best girl and a 3 ½ h.p. motor-bike!’

Having raced off to file a report at headquarters, Hulse returned at 10.00 to find crowds of British soldiers and Germans out together chatting and larking about in no-man’s land, in direct contradiction to his orders.

Not that Hulse seemed to care about the fraternisation in itself – the need to be seen to follow orders was his concern. Thus he sought out a German officer and arranged for both sides to return to their lines.

While this was going on he still managed to keep his ears and eyes open to the fantastic events that were unfolding.

‘Scots and Huns were fraternizing in the most genuine possible manner. Every sort of souvenir was exchanged addresses given and received, photos of families shown, etc. One of our fellows offered a German a cigarette; the German said, “Virginian?” Our fellow said, “Aye, straight-cut”, the German said “No thanks, I only smoke Turkish!”… It gave us all a good laugh.’

Hulse’s account was in part a letter to his mother, who in turn sent it on to the newspapers for publication, as was the custom at the time. Tragically, Hulse was killed in March 1915.

On many parts of the line the Christmas Day truce was initiated through sadder means. Both sides saw the lull as a chance to get into no-man’s land and seek out the bodies of their compatriots and give them a decent burial. Once this was done the opponents would inevitably begin talking to one another.

The 6th Gordon Highlanders, for example, organised a burial truce with the enemy. After the gruesome task of laying friends and comrades to rest was complete, the fraternisation began.

On Boxing Day Captain Stockwell of the Welsh Fusiliers had three shots fired into the air, posted a sign reading ‘Merry Christmas’ and climbed atop of his parapet. The Germans quickly displayed a sign saying ‘Thank You’ and their company commander stood proudly on his own parapet. The two officers faced each other bowed, saluted and then descended into their own trenches. The German captain then fired two shots into the air. The war recommenced.

A Plum Pudding Policy Which Might Have Ended The War

Written in the trenches by Private Frederick W. Heath

The night closed in early – the ghostly shadows that haunt the trenches came to keep us company as we stood to arms. Under a pale moon, one could just see the grave-like rise of ground which marked the German trenches two hundred yards away. Fires in the English lines had died down, and only the squelch of the sodden boots in the slushy mud, the whispered orders of the officers and the NCOs, and the moan of the wind broke the silence of the night. The soldiers’ Christmas Eve had come at last, and it was hardly the time or place to feel grateful for it.

Memory in her shrine kept us in a trance of saddened silence. Back somewhere in England, the fires were burning in cosy rooms; in fancy I heard laughter and the thousand melodies of reunion on Christmas Eve. With overcoat thick with wet mud, hands cracked and sore with the frost, I leaned against the side of the trench, and, looking through my loophole, fixed weary eyes on the German trenches. Thoughts surged madly in my mind; but they had no sequence, no cohesion. Mostly they were of home as I had known it through the years that had brought me to this. I asked myself why I was in the trenches in misery at all, when I might have been in England warm and prosperous. That involuntary question was quickly answered. For is there not a multitude of houses in England, and has not someone to keep them intact? I thought of a shattered cottage in — , and felt glad that I was in the trenches. That cottage was once somebody’s home.

Still looking and dreaming, my eyes caught a flare in the darkness. A light in the enemy’s trenches was so rare at that hour that I passed a message down the line. I had hardly spoken when light after light sprang up along the German front. Then quite near our dug-outs, so near as to make me start and clutch my rifle, I heard a voice. there was no mistaking that voice with its guttural ring. With ears strained, I listened, and then, 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!”

Friendly invitation

Following that salute boomed the invitation from those harsh voices: “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 German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired, except for down on our right, where the French artillery were at work.

Came the dawn, pencilling the sky with grey and pink. Under the early light we saw our foes moving recklessly about on top of their trenches. Here, indeed, was courage; no seeking the security of the shelter but a brazen invitation to us to shoot and kill with deadly certainty. But did we shoot? Not likely! We stood up ourselves and called benisons on the Germans. Then came the invitation to fall out of the trenches and meet half way.

Still cautious we hung back. Not so the others. They ran forward in little groups, with hands held up above their heads, asking us to do the same. Not for long could such an appeal be resisted – beside, was not the courage up to now all on one side? Jumping up onto the parapet, a few of us advanced to meet the on-coming Germans. Out went the hands and tightened in the grip of friendship. Christmas had made the bitterest foes friends.

The Gift of Gifts

Here was no desire to kill, but just the wish of a few simple soldiers (and no one is quite so simple as a soldier) that on Christmas Day, at any rate, the force of fire should cease. We gave each other cigarettes and exchanged all manner of things. We wrote our names and addresses on the field service postcards, and exchanged them for German ones. We cut the buttons off our coats and took in exchange the Imperial Arms of Germany. But the gift of gifts was Christmas pudding. The sight of it made the Germans’ eyes grow wide with hungry wonder, and at the first bite of it they were our friends for ever. Given a sufficient quantity of Christmas puddings, every German in the trenches before ours would have surrendered.

And so we stayed together for a while and talked, even though all the time there was a strained feeling of suspicion which rather spoilt this Christmas armistice. We could not help remembering that we were enemies, even though we had shaken hands. We dare not advance too near their trenches lest we saw too much, nor could the Germans come beyond the barbed wire which lay before ours. After we had chatted, we turned back to our respective trenches for breakfast.

All through the day no shot was fired, and all we did was talk to each other and make confessions which, perhaps, were truer at that curious moment than in the normal times of war. How far this unofficial truce extended along the lines I do not know, but I do know that what I have written here applies to the — on our side and the 158th German Brigade, composed of Westphalians.

As I finish this short and scrappy description of a strangely human event, we are pouring rapid fire into the German trenches, and they are returning the compliment just as fiercely. Screeching through the air above us are the shattering shells of rival batteries of artillery. So we are back once more to the ordeal of fire.

NOTE TO OTHER PUBLISHERS: This work is out of copyright but if you do reprint it please credit the hard-working volunteer – Marian Robson – who found and transcribed it.

The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the “No Man’s Land” where small gifts were exchanged — whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man’s Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there are many stories of football matches between the opposing forces. The film Joyeux Noël suggests that letters sent home from both British and German soldiers related that the score was 3-2 in favour of the Germans.

source: wikipedia

I made this video after hearing Mike Harding’s song played on the radio in December 2007. The whole video was done in a few hours and uploaded the same night. Not so much a rush job – I just needed to get it done because I felt increasingly upset at looking into the faces of the lads from both sides, many who will have died soon thereafter.

Here is a link to Mike Harding’s website where you can find details of the CD Plutonium Alley, the album from which this song is taken. A better quality remastered version is available:

http://www.mikeharding.co.uk/


My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung
Our families back in England were toasting us that day
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.

“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.

“There’s someone coming toward us!” the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well

And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.


Christmas truce was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during the World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “no man’s land“, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.[1]

The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous, however; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternisation. In 1916, after the unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas use, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the other side as less than human, and no more Christmas truces were sought.

In the early months of immobile trench warfare, the truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and reflected a growing mood of “live and let live“, where infantry units in close proximity to each other would stop overtly aggressive behaviour, and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there would be occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised, or worked in full view of the enemy. The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation – even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable.

Though there was no official truce, about 100,000 British and German troops were involved in unofficial cessations of fighting along the length of the Western Front.[8] The first truce started on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium.[9]

The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man’s Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. Theartillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. The fraternisation was not, however, without its risks; some soldiers were shot by opposing forces. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but it continued until New Year’s Day in others.[7]

Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. … I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. … I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. … The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”[10]

General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, was irate when he heard what was happening, and issued strict orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops.

Click to view slideshow.

The soldiers sang Christmas carols before leaving their trenches to play a match in sub-zero temperatures in no-man’s land near Armentieres, France.

The truce began when German soldiers started to sing Christmas carols.

British troops responded and gradually both sets of soldiers moved out of their trenches and met in no-man’s land.

After exchanging stories and gifts, several games of football broke out.

The only result recorded was a 3-2 victory by the Germans, quoted in soldiers’ letters from both sides.

On some parts of the front hostilities were officially resumed on Boxing Day at 0830 – ceremonial pistol shots marking the occasion.

In other areas non-aggressive behaviour lasted for days and, in some cases, weeks.

Military historian Andrew Robertshaw says such a truce would have been unthinkable a year later.

He said: “This was before the poisoned gas, before aerial bombardment.

“By the end of 1915 both sides were far too bitter for this to happen again.”

In reality, despite the efforts by the higher command on both sides of no man’s line to eliminate fraterniztion at subsequent Christmases, very localized truces occurred throughout the war — although they never rose to the level of the 1914 truce. Some regiments have been shown to have been involved in Christmas truces every year until 1917.

The Truce received some media coverage as well. In England, reports of the Truce hit the papers a week after and expressed the joy and worry soldiers had during it. The German paper criticized those troops who took part in the Truce. However, in France there was almost no reports of it. But the story of the Truce spread through each military and there was several attempts to make the Truce an annual event. However, that would never come to be. The British and German military leaders planned artillery barrages and attacks on Christmas Eve and Day for the remainder of the war. Yet, recent research has shown that one more Truce may have happened in 1916. This time German and Canadian troops revived the practice of Christmas on the battlefield. Unfortunately for historians the only record of this comes from a soldier who was killed several days after the Truce ended. So the war would then continue on as planned and the Christmas Truce would become somehow forgotten amongst battles, casualties and legends of World War I.

There is no doubt that the propaganda of both sides influenced the soldiers’ attitude toward their enemies. On both sides, the offer of truce was refused. The reason for the refusal was their beliefs in the other’s guilt and in their just cause. A lieutenant from the German “Landwehr” wrote in a letter that

“ such a proposal in the past would have been accepted with pleasure, but at the present time, when we have clearly recognized England’s real character, we refuse to any such agreement. Also we do not doubt that you are men of honor, yet every feeling of ours revolts against any friendly intercourse towards the subjects of a nation which for years has, in underhand ways sought the friendship of all other nations, so that with their help annihilate us, a nation also which, while professing Christianity, is not ashamed to use dum-dum bullets; and whose greatest pleasure would be to see the political disappearance and social eclipse of Germany.[…] But all the same you are Englishmen, whose annihilate we consider as our most sacred duty. We therefore request you to take such action as will prevent your mercenaries, whom you call soldiers, from approaching our trenches in future.”[22]

Neither did the German philosophy student soldier Karl Aldag change his opinion about his English opponents. Although he had a great Christmas with his comrades in the trenches and a truce on New Year’s Eve to bury the dead, he noted that English soldiers were ”only mercenaries.”[23]

Similar feelings existed on the other side of the trenches. Captain Billy Congreve from the 3rd division noticed that the Germans did try to make a truce for Christmas.

We have issued strict orders to the men not to on any account allow a truce, as we have heard rumours that they will probably try to. The Germans did. They came over towards us singing. So we opened rapid fire on them, which is the only truce they deserve.”[24]

Bruce Bairnsfather described the Germans he met during the truce as “unimaginative products of perverted kulture” and as “these devils, […], all wanted to be friendly; but none of them possessed the open, frank geniality of our men.”[25] In his diary he labeled the Germans mostly as Huns.

The infantry Captain J.D.M. Beckett portrayed Germans as “very simple-minded creatures, and were much elated over alleged victories in Russia.”[26] In his letter which Beckett wrote about the meeting with the Germans he described them as arrogant and self-confident.

The Westminster Rifleman P.H. Jones wrote in his letter that, when the Germans came over toward their trenches, “this was all very well, but we had heard so many yarns about German treachery that we kept a very sharp look-out.”[27] The British lieutenant of the Cameronians emphasizes that trickery by the Germans was a common fear. He was warned not to allow the Germans to come too close to their trenches. Because the Germans did nothing without purpose, they feared the Germans would inspect the British trenches.[28]

Captain Sir Edward Hamilton from the Scots Guards wrote to his mother on December 28 1914 about his experiences of the truce. Although this letter shows a great understanding of each other – one German soldier gave him a letter for his English girl – both sides still stuck in their old patterns.

They think that our Press is to blame in working up feelings against them by publishing false “atrocity reports.” I told them of various sweet little cases which I have seen myself, and they told me of English prisoners whom put they have seen with soft-nosed bullets, and lead bullets with notches cut in the nose; we had a heated, and at the same time good-natured argument, and ended by hinting to each other that the other was lying.”[29]

Interestingly, Hamilton (picture on the right) reports no kind of hatred or mistrust of each other. They exchanged what they had heard about the each other. Stories and reports they had read or heard about the other’s illegal warfare were discussed. He believed the German soldiers when they told him that they were tired of fighting.

Furthermore, this quote shows quite impressively that both sides trusted each other. Otherwise a conversation like this reported one would not be possible. People who hate their enemies or at least mistrust them will not discuss the propaganda stories they have heard. In the following sections of this letter, it becomes clear that both sides still went on with their fraternizations, and there is no kind of mistrust visible.[30]

Although it seems that Hamilton trusted the Germans, he called them in his diary, as Bairnsfather did, Huns, which means that a small part of the propaganda still worked.[31] In opposition to Bairnsfather, who uses the word Huns with a clear negative connotation, Hamilton uses this world only as different word for Germans. The way Hamilton uses the description Huns is neutral and not an expression of mistrust and disdain against the Germans.

Other soldiers like an officer from the Westminster Rifles, started thinking about the way the Germans were presented in the British press. In his letter, which was published first in The Daily News on December 30 and one day later in the New York Times, the officer described his impression of the truce with the Germans.

The Germans opposite us were awfully decent fellows – Saxons, intelligent, respectable-looking men. I had a quite decent talk with three or four have two names and addresses in my notebook. […] After our talk I really think a lot of our newspaper reports must be horribly exaggerated.”[32]


The Christmas Truce of 1914

Build up to the truce

Under strong French pressure to take the initiative, the army was ordered into a series of small piecemeal attacks that proved to be very costly. An example is the attack of 8th Brigade at Wytschaete on 14 December 1914. Cut down by rifle and machine gun fire and unable to enter enemy trenches, the attacking units left many casualties lying in no man’s land and on the enemy barbed wire defences.

Timeline

5 December 1914
II Corps HQ [General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien] issued an instruction to commanders of all Divisions: “It is during this period that the greatest danger to the morale of troops exists. Experience of this and of every other war proves undoubtedly that troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a “live and let live” theory of life…officers and men sink into a military lethargy from which it is difficult to arouse them when the moment for great sacrifices again arises…the attitude of our troops can be readily understood and to a certain extent commands sympathy…such an attitude is however most dangerous for it discourages initiative in commanders and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks…the Corps Commander therefore directs Divisional Commanders to impress on subordinate commanders the absolute necessity of encouraging offensive spirit…friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited”
The early weeks of December 1914
Tremendous volumes of mail and gifts for the troops were sent from homes in the United Kingdom and Germany. King George V sent a Christmas card to every soldier, sailor and nurse; the Princess Mary fund despatched a gift box to every serving soldier.
14 December 1914
An attack of 8th Brigade at Wytschaete on 14 December 1914 fails with heavy casualties.
18 December 1914
An attack by 22nd Brigade [2nd Queen's and 2nd Royal Warwickshire] on the Well Farm position at La Boutillerie fails with heavy casualties. A further effort [by 20th Brigade; 2nd Scots Guards and 2nd Border] later in the day also fails.
19 December 1914
An attack by 11th Brigade [1st Somerset Light Infantry, 1st Hampshire and 1st Rifle Brigade] on the “German Birdcage” east of Ploegsteert Wood fails with heavy casualties, many of which are caused by British heavy artillery firing short of target.
20 December 1914
Local truce on the front of 22nd Brigade; Germans begin by taking in British wounded from no man’s land. There is some contact: according to Lt G. Heinekey of 2nd Queen’s, it lasted all morning. Lt Henry Bower, 1st South Staffordshire and at least one soldier of the 2nd Queen’s were killed by rifle fire from neighbouring units while assisting with the wounded. A similar activity took place on the front of 20th Brigade.
23 December 1914
A German soldier, Karl Aldag, reports that both sides had been heard singing hymns in the trenches. German troops coming into the lines bring Christmas trees. Some men begin to place them on the parapets of the fire trenches. Local truce on the front of 23rd Brigade.
24 December 1914, Christmas Eve
The weather changes to a hard frost. This makes trench conditions a little more bearable. 98 British soldiers die on this day, many are victims of sniper fire. A German aeroplane drops a bomb on Dover: the first air raid in British history. During the afternoon and early evening, British infantry are astonished to see many Christmas trees with candles and paper lanterns, on enemy parapets. There is much singing of carols, hymns and popular songs, and a gradual exchange of communication and even meetings in some areas. Many of these meetings are to arrange collection of bodies. In other places, firing continues. Battalion officers are uncertain how to react; in general they maintain precautions. The night brings a clear, still air with a hard frost.
Fraternisation
British and German troops fraternise at Christmas 1914
25 December 1914, Christmas Day
Burial
Men of 20th Brigade bury their dead of the attack of 18 December, alongside German soldiers engaged in the same activity. Christmas Day, 1914.
Units behind the lines attend church services and have in most cases arranged Christmas dinners which are taken in barns and shattered buildings. In the front lines, the fraternisation of Christmas Eve is continued throughout the day; not all units know about it, and it is not universal but is widespread over at least half of the British front. Many bodies that have been lying out in no man’s land are buried, some in joint burials. Many men record the strange and wonderful events; may men exchange tokens or addresses with German soldiers, many of whom speak English. 81 British soldiers die on this day; a few die in areas that are otherwise peaceful and with fraternisation going on, victims of alert snipers. In other areas, there is considerable activity: 2nd Grenadier Guards suffer losses in a day of heavy fighting. As night fell, things grew quiet as men fell back to their trenches to take whatever Christmas meal that had been provided for them.
26 December 1914, Boxing Day
Fraternisation

British and German troops meet in no man’s land. Boxing Day, 1914. Photographed by 2nd Lt Cyril Drummand, RFA.

Some snow. In some areas, the friendly spirit was resumed. Gradually however, officers and men on both sides began to resume normal trench caution. The atmosphere in general remained relaxed as Brigade and Battalion officers took a pragmatic view of events. The chance was taken to carry out work that would otherwise have been hazardous. By now, however, news of the truce was reaching higher commands. General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien requested particulars of those units and officers who took part, with a view to disciplinary action. In the event, no action was taken against any unit or officer. 62 British soldiers die on this day.
27-31 December 1914
The weather turns wet again, with rain, sleet and storms. There were instances of men disappearing in the flooded trenches. Yet in some areas the friendly mood remained for several days and there was almost no firing, although open fraternisation gradually died away. On New Years Eve, there was a certain amount of singing and exchange of messages, but no truce as such.

List of British units which took part in the truce

Brigade Unit
5th Division on Wulverghem – Messines road and in the River Douve valley
14th Brigade 1st Devonshire
1st East Surrey
2nd Manchester
15th Brigade 1/6th Cheshire
1st Norfolk
4th Division in front of Ploegsteert Wood
10th Brigade 1st Royal Warwickshire
2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers
2nd Seaforth Highlanders
1st Royal Irish Fusiliers
11th Brigade 1st Hampshire
1st Rifle Brigade
1st East Lancashire
1/5th London (London Rifle Brigade)
12th Brigade 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers
2nd Essex
1/2nd Monmouthshire
XXXIII Bde RFA 135 Battery RFA
31 Heavy Battery RGA
6th Division at Frelinghien and Houplines
16th Brigade 1st Leicestershire
1st Buffs (East Kent)
17th Brigade 2nd Leinster
3rd Rifle Brigade
1/16th London (Queen’s Westminster Rifles)
1st North Staffordshire
19th Brigade 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers
2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
1/5th Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
XXXVIII Bde RFA 24 Battery RFA
XIII (H) Bde RFA 87 Battery RFA
7th Division at Bois Grenier, La Boutillerie and on the Fromelles road
20th Brigade 2nd Border
2nd Gordon Highlanders
1/6th Gordon Highlanders
2nd Scots Guards
21st Brigade 2nd Wiltshire
2nd Bedfordshire
2nd Yorkshire
22nd Brigade 2nd Queen’s (Royal West Surrey)
1/8th Royal Scots
XXIII Bde RFA 104 Battery RFA
XIV Bde RFA F and T Batteries RHA
III Heavy Bde RGA 111 and 112 Batteries RGA
A and B Squadrons, the Northumberland Hussars
8th Division at Picantin, Fauquissart and Neuve Chapelle
23rd Brigade 2nd Devonshire
2nd Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
24th Brigade 2nd East Lancashire
2nd Northamptonshire
25th Brigade 1/13th London (Kensington)
1st Royal Irish Rifles > War diary from Christmas 1914
XLV Bde RFA 5 Battery RFA
2 Field Company, the Royal Engineers
Meerut Division at Richebourg l’Avoué
Gharwal Brigade 1/39 Gharwal Rifles
2/39 Gharwal Rifles
18th Hussars

Note: those units that were under command of the Divisions and Brigades shown but do not appear in the table did not take part in fraternisation, often because they were in billets and out of the front line at the time. The list has been compiled by reference to war diaries, soldiers letters, reports, etc.

List of German units which took part in the truce

Brigade Unit
6th Bavarian Reserve Division, facing Kemmel
12th Bavarian Reserve Brigade Brigade 17th Bavarian Reserve Regiment
40th Division, facing Wulverghem and Ploegsteert Wood and at Frelinghien
48th Brigade 10th Infantry Regiment
88th Brigade 104th Infantry Regiment
6th Jaeger Battalion
89th Brigade 133rd Infantry Regiment Saxon
134th Infantry Regiment
24th Division, on the Armentieres-Lille railway
47th Brigade 179th Infantry Regiment
48th Brigade 107th Infantry Regiment
13th Division, at Fromelles and on Rue des Bois Blancs
25th Brigade 158th Infantry Regiment
13th Infantry Regiment
11th Jaeger Battalion
26th Brigade 55th Infantry Regiment
15th Infantry Regiment
14th Division, at Aubers and Festubert
27th Brigade 16th Infantry Regiment (3rd Westphalian)

Myths and legends about the Christmas truce

The Pope calls for peace at Christmas

In early December 1914 Pope Benedict XV began an initiative, requesting that the nations “cease the clang of arms while Christendom celebrates the Feast of the World’s Redemption”. Germany said it would do so as long as the other nations did; they did not, and the Pope’s effort faltered. It is doubtful whether it had any meaningful impact on what eventually happened.

Football in no man’s land

It is by no means certain that this took place, although many men report that it happened to a neighbouring unit. Mention appears in the war diary of the 1/6th Cheshire Regiment. A common theme is a score of 3-2 to the Germans.

British senior officer casualties 18 to 31 December 1914

18 December 1914: Major (Temp. Lt-Col) Robert Brewis, 2nd Royal Warwickshire. Killed during attack at La Boutillerie. Buried in Sailly-sur-la-Lys Churchyard. A veteran of the Sudan.

23 December 1914: Lt-Col Henry Lempriere DSO, 7th Dragoon Guards. Has no known grave; commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Le Touret.

29 December 1914: Lt-Col Reginald Alexander, 3rd Rifle Brigade. Died of wounds; buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery.

Truce area
The truce took part over a wide area of the British front. This is part of it: the field on the left is near Ploegsteert and is where the units of 10th Brigade met their enemy.

Other accounts:

The Christmas Truce of 1914 The Long, Long Trail n.d., accessed 12/24/2011

December 15, 2011

‘Operation Silent Night’ tells of another Christmas miracle Fayette Tribune 12/15/2011

Peace on the Western Front, Goodwill in No Man’s Land — The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce Past Imperfect (Smithsonian blog) 12/23/2011

Claudia Becker, Erster Weltkrieg.Als Briten und Deutsche Weihnachtsfrieden schlossen Die Welt 23.12.2011

Damien Fletcher, Carol Ann Duffy’s moving tale of World War Christmas truce Daily Mirror 23/12/2011

Gary Kohls, The Christmas Truce of 1914 Consortuium News 12/16/2011

Michael Omer-Man, This Week in History: The Christmas Truce of 1914 Jerusalem Post 12/18/2011

Spitalfieldslife.com, 11th December, Christmas Truce My Tower Hamlets 12/11/2011


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A noted pioneer in the field of Peace Studies, Johan Galtung makes the case for incorporating human rights as key to successful peace building around the world. Series: “Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series” [1/2011] … Continue reading

A noted pioneer in the field of Peace Studies, Johan Galtung makes the case for incorporating human rights as key to successful peace building around the world. Series: “Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series” [1/2011] [Public Affairs] [Show ID: 20036]

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