Imagine picking up the morning paper and reading this headline: "U.S., Iraqi Soldiers Lay Down Weapons in Day-Long Ceasefire." You learn that this truce was not ordered from on high, but initiated by the soldiers themselves, who actually put down their guns and approached each other with gestures of peace. They put their mistrust aside and shared coffee, chocolates, and cigarettes, looked at family photos, and even played soccer, right there on the desert sand.
You can't believe what you're reading.
Nor could people believe it almost a century ago when such an event actually did occur in the midst of arguably the most hellacious combat in history: World War I. It was 1914 in German-occupied France. The invading army and the Allies were literally dug into trenches, sometimes just 20 feet apart. To raise your head above the sandbags was to risk having it blown off. The opposing soldiers could hear one another, and, if they dared, even look into each other's eyes. Separating the two trenches was a small patch of earth dubbed No Man's Land—littered with shells, shrapnel, and the corpses of the slain.
Such is the landscape in which Joyeux Noël (French for Merry Christmas) takes place. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, it's the true story of that Christmas cease-fire, when men on both sides really did lay down their weapons and fraternize with each other.
Several years ago, I was spellbound by Stanley Weintraub's Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. It seems like the stuff of urban legend, but it really happened. It also seems like it can only be explained as "a God thing," and indeed, how else could something so extraordinary take place without divine intervention?
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