by Terri Blom Crocker
Lexingtno: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. Pp. xii, 300.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paperback. ISBN: 0813174023
Parsing a Great Myth of the Great War
Originally published in hardback in 2015, Dr. Crocker’s account of the “Christmas Truce” of 1914, gives us the first genuinely scholarly treatment of the events of that storied Yuletide, one rooted strongly in her background as both an investigative paralegal and an academically trained historian. Crocker divides her subject into two parts.
Crocker’s first five chapters give us a straightforward account of the events as they unfolded within the wider events of the war and that year’s Christmas season. Perhaps the most important point made is that the “truce” was far more limited than is commonly believed, so that while in a few sectors of the front there were spontaneous cease fires and even fraternization across the front lines, in most sectors the war went on largely uninterrupted.
Crocker follows with seven chapters that examine the evolution of the story of the "truce", beginning with wartime reportage, and growing in the retelling over the decades after the war. Initially interpreted as a “curious” incident of war (though such “truces” were not unusual in earlier wars, and even occurred in World War II), during the postwar years the “truce” began to be viewed as a demonstration of the stupidity of war, in which the troops, after killing each other for months, fraternize for a bit, and then resume the killing. This grew rather quickly into viewing the events as a spontaneous protest against war and a pitch for peace, albeit that the participants in the “truce” did not seem to view it those terms. In interpretations of the “truce” often reflected current political trends, particular the near universal revulsion against war in the West during the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Crocker uses many personal accounts, and at times is able to compare veterans’ wartime and post war versions of the events. She observes that the recollection of the "truce" often differs markedly over the years, the differences frequently reflecting the evolving wider cultural interpretation of the events, which is a tendency noted by other researchers into veterans’ recollections not of the Great War, but of other conflicts as well.
Although at times somewhat confusing, Crocker’s The Christmas Truce, which is controversial in some circles, is certain to be the standard work on the subject.
Note: The Christmas Truce is also available in hard cover, $40.00, 978-0-8131-6615-5; pdf. 978-0-8131-6616-2; and as an e-pub, 978-0-8131-6617-9.