On Christmas day in 1914 an unofficial truce occurred between German and French soldiers fighting on the Western front in France. For one day they set aside hostilities and shared Christmas, bound by the common ties of Western culture and humanity that held them together.
This story is often trotted out as a heartwarming and sentimental tale of which displays the true meaning of Christmas. The more I think about, the less I agree with this sentiment. To me this is one of the most barbaric war stories imaginable. If the differences between French and German soldiers were so small that they could be overcome merely by observing a universal holiday were they worth the thousands upon thousands of soldier who gave their lives for those differences? Failing to kill and dismember your fellow human beings on one day out of three hundred and sixty-five is hardly a triumph of humanity.
Fast forward to November of 1918. On the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War I drew to a close. Earlier that day an armistice had been signed dictating that hostilities on the western front would end within six hours. By 5:20 the armistice had been signed.
The fighting would not stop until eleven.
Eleven, eleven, eleven.
Three beautiful but meaningless numbers. 2.738 soldiers died on the last day of the war. The last of them, Henry Gunther of Baltimore Maryland, was killed less than sixty seconds before the armistice took effect. There comes a time when arbitrary numbers are meaningless. An extra six hours of fighting, six hours that achieved nothing but destroyed thousands of lives, is the height of barbarity.
November 11th has now been dedicated as a day to show respect for our veterans, and on the whole these veterans deserve respect. The individuals who have fought, bled and died in the wars throughout history all have an intrinsic value as human beings. They serve an important role in our society, and we should respect them all the more for the inhuman circumstances which they have often had to endure.
I respect the lives of our veterans, because life means something.
But eleven is meaningless.
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