This morning on NPR, there was a commentary about the Christmas Truce, a moment in the first year of WWI when British and German troops left their trenches, met in No Man’s Land, and exchanged cigarettes and jam, sang Christmas carols, and even played soccer. This ad hoc truce was unofficial and unsanctioned, and it obviously didn’t last, but it was a last vestige of a human, individual, moral approach to war that was rendered obsolete by WWI’s technological advances. Paul Fussell, a UPenn historian, called it “the last twitch of the 19th century.” Read firsthand accounts of the Christmas Truce here.
This story reminded me of a trip I made in early 2000 with Paul, a former colleague of mine, while we were working in Paris. We set out one cold Saturday to visit WWI memorials to the Battle of the Somme. We set out to visit the British Memorial at the village of Thiepval [note: link is in pdf format], designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. This arch is inscribed with the names of thousands of missing soldiers and was one inspiration for Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial [note: official Park Services websites are currently offline]. In November 2000, Maya Lin discussed Lutyens’ influence in an essay she wrote in 1982, right after completing the then-controversial memorial. Read it in the New York Review of Books.