One of the things that us engineers and other left-brained individuals sometimes forget is the human factor. It isn’t just us that forgets it, it turns out.
I’ve said it before: war, while sometimes necessary, is not a good thing. We celebrate the technology that is created by necessity during war, but wish that it had been developed outside of conflict. One of the technologies whose development actually extended a war was the machine gun. While the machine gun had been around in practical form since the mid-1800s, in the early 20th century lighter machine guns that could be carried by a soldier came along. Guns like the German MP18 and the Chauchat were developed in the early part of the century and saw heavy use in WWI. These guns along with heavy artillery turned the Western Front into a stagnant line of trenches for almost 2 years.
But there was a human element in the trenches; it wasn’t a completely mechanized war. After months of fighting and attrition something happened around Christmas 1914 that reinforced that human factor. In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, British and German troops began exchanging greetings and singing carols. Nobody dared leave the safety of their trench, but there was a growing level of humanity along parts of the Western Front. Then, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, troops from both sides would venture…carefully, at first…into the killing fields between the trenches. Soon, soldiers put down their arms for a time and enjoyed the camaraderie of men. For those few hours they were not soldiers. They were not English, French or German. They were men. They were human. They exchanged gifts and played games. They drank tea and coffee and smoked cigarettes together. Hungry soldiers on both sides broke bread. They held ceremonies honoring the dead. German soldiers picked up shovels to help the British bury their fallen, and vice versa.
When it was all over, the fighting picked back up and they resumed their roles as soldiers in opposing armies. The following year some units arranged a temporary cease fire on Christmas Day, but the Christmas Truce of 1914 was not to be repeated by order of the commanding officers of both sides. The human factor, as it were, was removed.
The world can be an ugly place. Pick up a newspaper (do they still make those?) and you see story after story of suffering and injustice. But at this holiday season, we have the chance to look at the good in people. We can put down our arms, so to speak, and enjoy this time with family, friends and our fellow man. Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah, Christ’s Birth, the Winter Solstice, or a secular Christmas is not relevant. What is relevant is that there is a human factor, and we would be well-served to never forget it.
[Image Credit: Public Domain]