The Christmas Truce of 1914 has been called by Arthur Conan Doyle “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” It is certainly one of the most remarkable incidents of World War I and perhaps of all military history. Inspiring both popular songs and theater, it has endured as an almost archetypal image of peace.
The above is from the addendum to an article written for schoolchildren on the truce at Christmas during the first year of World War I.
I knew about the Christmas Truce but had subsequently heard it was enormously exaggerated if not apocryphal. Apparently, that's not so. According to the above link, a few historians have verified that it really did happen and was quite widespread along the front line. Which made me think: Wow -- for a day, or a few days -- they held a war and no one came.
What's more, this is not as unprecedented as people think. Also from the addendum to the article:
Another false idea about the truce was held even by most soldiers who were there: that it was unique in history. Though the Christmas Truce is the greatest example of its kind, informal truces had been a longstanding military tradition. During the American Civil War, for instance, Rebels and Yankees traded tobacco, coffee, and newspapers, fished peacefully on opposite sides of a stream, and even gathered blackberries together. Some degree of fellow feeling had always been common among soldiers sent to battle.
In more recent times, he points out, cultural and language barriers have prevented informal truces from occurring in many battle arenas. Nonetheless, their historical occurence, along with estimates that (for instance) soldiers only fired 1 in every 7 times they were ordered to fire during WWII, does suggest that sometimes the common people quietly rebel against war. The elites, the CEOs, the war mongers, the intelligence mavens-- these are the men who want war, and bring us to war. The Zbigniew Brzezinskis and Henry Kissingers of the world. And when they garner the populations' support for war, it is always through false pretenses. Lies, propaganda, and false flags (such as the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin attack, or the apocryphal Spanish attack on the USS Maine) are used to whip up fear and anger in a domestic population to allow for war.
There's an anti-war book called War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, that argues that warfare can be exhilirating and addictive to some of its participants, but also to whole societies involved in a war. I shouldn't comment on a book I haven't read, but I would imagine that this process doesn't work quite so well without state propaganda. When I watched the old series Upstairs, Downstairs they showed that many British were gung-ho for war against the Germans, at the start of WWI. But that was on the basis of outrageous propaganda about the evil Huns. Remember those Iraqi soldiers who knocked over the incubators of premature babies in a Kuwaiti hospital? It never happened, but it's very much like the WWI anti-German propaganda. Take all that away, and would the common people feel so inspired by war? I doubt it. It's just that war, because it involves death, enemies, and "the Other," provides for the most potent propaganda there is.
We are constantly being told how terrible human beings are, but the worst atrocities are committed not because people run amok, outside the control of any State, but rather, on the orders of the State.
Except when, sometimes, they refuse.