Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Abraham Lincoln observed in his Second Inaugural Address what Director/writer Christian Carion shows so well in his film: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” We see this time and again in this depiction of perhaps the one sane moment in the midst of the enormous blood bath we call World War 1. Everyone has heard of the “Christmas Truce” set forth by the men in the trenches on Christmas Eve of 1914. This film shows us, in fictional form, the details of that sacred night when in a few spots along the long line of trenches and barbed wire, men set aside their weapons of hatred and death and celebrated the birth of love and life.
As always happens when we allow the Spirit of God to control us, many moments of grace burst forth spontaneously. Men shared their drinks and candy; they joined together in singing; comrades were able to recover and bury their fallen friends; all three sides—German, French, and Scots—join in a football game; an officer conveys a letter of his counterpart to his parents behind enemy lines; and a clergyman conducts a Christmas Eve service. Such behavior, of course, is anathema to those whose orders send thousands of men to their deaths. They regard the incident as treasonous because the soldiers’ “fraternizing with the enemy” will undermine their efficiency as the killing machines they were trained to be. Dire consequences, more akin to Good Friday than Christmas, follow.
There is more than a touch of romanticism injected, with the impetus for the truce supposedly coming, not from the soldiers themselves, but by the visit of Danish soprano Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger) to the front lines to see her soldier-lover Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Fürmann). As they sing to the troops “ Stille Nacht,” the Scots and French are moved, with a bagpiper joining in, and soon most of the troops on both sides. The Germans lift up their small, lighted Christmas trees so that their enemies can see them, and soon soldiers are climbing over their embankments to meet and mingle.
The film reviewer in the British publication The GUARDIAN mentions that the last survivor of the 1914 Truce recently died, the 109-year-old Scot Alfred Anderson. He might not have gone along with the suggestion that it was romance that ignited the all too brief Christmas Truce, but I suspect he would be glad to know that the memory of that incredible moment is greatly strengthened by Christian Carion’s film. Never in human history has the angels’ song “ Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” been taken so literally as on that holy night in 1914.
1) What do you think of the scenes of school children at the beginning of the film? (You might play for a group as it gathers the song from South Pacific, “You’ve Got to be Taught.”)
An interesting exercise would be to look at primary school history texts to see how our nation’s wars are presented.
2) How can religion become a force for hatred and violence, instead of for love and peace? If you have a copy of the CBS Miniseries JESUS, check out the opening sequence, a variation of which is repeated in the scene in which Satanl tempts Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Note the WW 1 scene (and others) in which God’s name is invoked. This would be a good film to follow up with a group, as the theme of Jesus as Peacemaker predominates throughout.
3) How is the power of music shown in this film? How do some of the protest songs of the 60’s express similar sentiments as this film—especially “Universal Soldier” and “I’m Not A’Marching Anymore” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”?
4) What are some of the ways the troops fraternize that demonstrate grace?
5) Some critics have thought the last segment in which the bishop preaches his sermon of hate an unnecessary addition to what the film has taught: what do you think? How does it show how Christianity can be twisted. How, in a way, is the bishop’s call to hate (“With God’s help you must kill Germans, young and old, good and bad, so that you will not have to do it again!”) prophetic? How is nationalism really the faith of the bishop?
6) Why are the senior officers so upset by their soldiers’ Truce? What could happen if the sentiments that ignited the Truce should spread? Note how after the Falkland Islands War in 1982 and Archbishop of Canterbury Runcie, a critic of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, delivered a prayer on behalf of the Argentine, as well as British dead, he was widely attacked as unpatriotic.