Article — From the December 1920 issue

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

Personal accounts of the Christmas frontline truces

Of the second of the two episodes graphically set forth in this article, Captain Ewart was himself an eye-witness; the account of the first is taken from letters addressed to the author by the late Captain Sir Edward Hulse, Bart., of the Scots Guards

It is related in Sir William Napier’s Peninsular War, and has been handed down through successive generations, how during the bitterest periods of that campaign French and British soldiers met and filled their water bottles at either side of a stream, shouting friendly remarks across from bank to bank, while neither side fired a shot. Somewhere or another similar incidents are reported of the American Civil War. The history of war, indeed, is full of queer reactions, complexities, anomalies, reversions to type, abstractions.

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication. Our pre-war world has become — has it not? — a grand illusion. But war is reality. War takes the measure of every self-imposed, self-constituted system of society and brings to the light, as nothing else does, the true quality of human “progress,” the absolute stage of our human faring.

War, too, is revelation. All the elaborate reredos of human imaginings and self-delusions and self-conceits knocked flat; all the pretenses and garnishings and superficial trappings and make-beliefs of our mortal nature laid bare; all our individual imperfection and fatuity and insignificance and contemporary grossness laid bare, too — what then left? Only reality, simplicity, the cold truth about each one of us for good and for evil, for better as well as for worse. This stands naked. This we cannot half see now or pretend not to hear, even though we become aware in the process of the mocking laughter of some devil or some god. . . .

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 9

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada


October 2019