The following essay was written for a scholarship that I applied to. The prompt was to write on a book that inspired and/or has impacted my interest in studying History. This was not a difficult question because, though there have been many books, essays, and lectures from professors that have been positively influential to me, the foundation of what inspired me to be the Historian-In-The-Making that I declare myself to be, began with this book. Anyone who knows me well, is well aware that all my books are plagued with sticky notes and this book arguably has the most (next to Russell Brand’s autobiography: My Booky Wook) Currently, this book is with a very good friend of mine and I hope he is enjoying it as much as I am. I share this essay with my readers to encourage critical thinking as well as showcase once again my passion, that some will say resembles obsession more than fascination, for History. And is written in bold style to illustrate that it is being written from my actual self and not from my persona. Also, the essay was meant to be 300 words or less and I am proud to say I successfully met that mark so, yeah. I rock! I hope you all enjoy. Please like and subscribe to the blog. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Like Us on Facebook!
As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more and more difficult to remember certain things. Even the most trivial such as, what I had for lunch yesterday, become a challenge when I look back into my mind. However, the book that inspired my passion for history, I will never forget. I can recall it so vividly; where I was, why I was reading it and how much I enjoyed it. The book was entitled: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. The title essentially already gives the plot away already, but I will reiterate nonetheless, that the book is about the ceasefire during World War I on the Western front and in honor of a special holiday, enemy soldiers exchanged gifts instead of bullets.
I was not an avid reader my first semester of College and to be quite honest, I would skim through books more than actually reading them but there was something about the writing Weintraub utilized that made what some critics would describe as the words just “leaping off the page.” And here it began, my first semester as an Undergraduate Student, assigned to read this book for my Western Civilization class. Before I knew it, I had reached halfway through the book and was in joyful tears by reading how for one brief shining moment, during a time of war and carnage, “there was general handshaking: the dead were buried; cigars, cigarettes, and newspapers were exchanged and a general celebration ensued.” (Weintraub, 68). Though there were some who denounced the Christmas truce such as one familiar name, Adolf Hitler, criticized the Germans for fraternizing with the British enemy by saying, “such a thing should not happen in wartime…Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” (Weintraub, 71)
Honor and or patriotism was the last thing on the minds of these soldiers however, as one British soldier, Corporal John Ferguson, quoted by Weintraub, about the ceasefire with the Germans, “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.” (Weintraub, 79-80) Eventually the Christmas celebrations as well as “all fraternization with the enemy [was] to cease immediately.” Reading the words of these soldiers, post the ceasefire, gaining these epiphanies of their groundless bloodshed and carrying on with the charade (because they have no other choice) in their own way by feigning the discharges towards their targets or even purposefully “shoot [in]to the air’” (Weintraub, 140) was in a word, thought-provoking. The idea that these soldiers were sent to fight against “the enemy” and were now re-defining who exactly the enemy was. “Both sides were misled by half-truths…Beneath the artificial hatred, each respected the other. Victory, if it came at all, would be long delayed, costly and worthless.” (Weintraub, 119) Reading this made me realize that these soldiers demanded answers to questions they finally began to ask themselves, “why am I really here?” It made me think of what other lies we have been fed in our youth that remain truths that we would potentially “die for” in our adult life.
Avi Shlaim has said that “History is the propaganda of the victors” and his statement is agreeable because when we are children and we learn about history, we are told things in a positive light only to find out later that they are actually horrific. And only when we get older do we learn the actual truth that is the awful side of history. We learn about World War I beginning with a series of mishaps that all could be responsible for the start of the war and the countless casualties that resulted as well as the incendiary feelings that remain, resulting in World War II. All the while, wondering how and why things in our own history, got so bad; and if there was a chance for reconciliation even. And it is here, in this story, that we have a pocket of positivity that not everyone is aware although should be. Here these soldiers are learning that the differences amongst them are scarce; therefore, they have no reason to fight one another. Why are they fighting? When instead, “perhaps a football match, after which both sides went home, might be a better solution.” (Weintraub, 119)
-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)
Originally written on the 15th of February, 2017 at 1:19 P.M.
Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: Plume, 2002. Print.