John Desaulniers, Jr.'s Reviews > Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub
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Aug 13, 11

Read from April 19 to May 25, 2011

Very good anecdotal tale of WWI, with a melancholy message of what many wished could have been.

Intriguing to me was Weintraub's portrayal of the Germans as being most religious. True, they were the belligerent ones in the start of the war, yet it was they who insisted on keeping Christmas and singing Christian carols (often answered back by the Brits and Irish with bar songs).

The stories Weintraub weaves together are good. His recognition that there was no way for the average soldier to so turn the war after that first Christmas as to keep hostilities low is handled with relative grace. There is an honest blend of the horrors of war (without delving into any gruesome detail) and the innocence of Christmas.

The concluding chapter of this book is also very powerful for the speculations Stanley Weintraub offers. He takes the reader on a reasonably legitimate "what if" journey of how the world might have looked had the truce held. No need/room for Hitler; America still isolated from European involvement, but perhaps more expansionist in the Pacific; historic military and political figures relegated to obscurity, with "alternate endings" to political races that pivoted on war involvement (both first and second); etc. I think it's always worth considering history from this perspective: what if this event or series of events did not occur? By asking - and answering - we don't look for an alternate reality, but a better understanding of how each action affects others, sometimes decades apart.

Not included in Weintraub's story is another moral which I gained. Some have suggested the obvious moral of WWI is that Germany was so badly treated (they paid off their last reparations only in 2010!), that they were ripe for Hitler and WWII. But I see more a society that believed Christianity and nationalism were one and the same and thus made Church and State synonymous. When the State fell, so did the Church, and that too, allowed a godless man such as Hitler to take power of a nation that, previously, had soldiers who hoped to be missionaries. Hauwerwas and Widmon were right in their book, Resident Aliens, that any worldly political power and position will make use of Christians until such time as they become no longer useful.

As an historic look at what happened (and what didn't), this is a worthwhile read. It's not a Christmas story in the truest sense. We'll need to wait for the next age for peace on earth to come.
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