Every Christmas Eve it crosses my mind: the Christmas truce of 1914, the last, best hope for stopping the First World War; the last, best hope for saving Western, and by extension human, civilization from the Crisis of the 20th Century. What if the war was ended right then and there, on December 25, 1914? What if, for the first time in history, soldiers successfully rose up and ended a war all by themselves? 1914 was the best chance of this happening as far as I know; as it was, the Christmas truce did have some staying power. Not nearly enough, but it did rattle the ruling class. What if that was carried to the ultimate extreme: forcing an armistice?
Coalescing against their respective governments instead of each other, the militaries of the combatant powers mutiny, and, scaring the ruling classes of their respective countries to death with the prospect of revolution or civil war if they don’t cooperate, a white peace is soon agreed to.
Gives a whole new meaning to “peace on earth”, a popular saying at Christmas. It would honestly give a whole new meaning to the entire holiday: the horror of war and the glory of peace would be far more heavily emphasized in Christmas after that fateful holiday in 1914. The “Army of Christmas”, as the combined mutinying force would have become known as, would have become a legend, as would have its members, the “Christmas Soldiers”.
I could see soldiers in World War I uniforms becoming part of our regular Christmas decor, e.g. a display of one German and one Frenchman shaking hands in friendship. I could see people lighting candles in memory of the Army of Christmas in their windows every year, so the world will never forget their inspiring example of heroism in the pursuit of peace. I could even see a legend develop where the ghosts of the Army of Christmas accompany Santa Claus on his annual sleigh ride through the sky, a la Odin and the Wild Hunt.
The effects of such a development could be far-reaching. For one, it’s entirely conceivable the white peace is arranged with the Pope acting as mediator; after all, he did offer his services in that regard from the get-go. The morale boost to Christianity, especially Catholicism, would be so vast and so deep they’d probably still be basking in its glow even now! The international socialist movement as well would have scored a great victory, the high-water mark bar none of the working class uniting against the bourgeoisie and the wars they wage at their expense.
The ruling class, meanwhile, will have been dealt a decisive defeat. One might think they’d move quickly to restore order, and they would I suppose, but not in the way one might think. Consider contemporary America: as David Graeber has pointed out, the civil unrest brought on by the Vietnam War genuinely spooked the American ruling class, to the extent the number one priority in warfighting after Vietnam has been to make waging war as protest-proof as possible, even at the expense of any chance of success on the battlefield! The military establishment is united, if only implicitly, behind the doctrine that outright losing a war is preferable to suffering substantial domestic protest over it. The dynamic brought on by the Army of Christmas will be this times a hundred.
I honestly wonder if the European ruling class would be willing to fight a continent-wide major war again after such an experience. They certainly would be very skittish about any warfare involving any mass mobilization for a long time to come, easily through the present day even.
Originally in my alternate history I thought my objectives would be best served by a quick German victory, with the point of divergence being at the Marne, but I increasingly believe the Army of Christmas, aside from being ten times cooler, harmonizes really well with the sort of world order I see my universe having deep in the 20th century. The ruling class being scared to death to wage an actual war lest the Christmas Mutiny repeat itself would very neatly explain why arbitration and plebiscites are much more widely used to resolve disputes than in real life, as well as the curious fact that the 20th and 21st centuries in my universe seem to be a golden age of cyber-war, nuclear war, mercenaries, and privateers while conventional warfare is conspicuous by its absence.
In a real sense, this was the one way the First World War could have been “the war to end all wars”, the watershed marking the beginning of an entire new age: what might have gone down in history as the Noëlic Era.
Best of all? It would be perhaps the most inspiring bit of alternate history imaginable. As one Alternate History Forum memorably put it:
I don’t care if it somehow leads into some sort of dystopia; I want to live in this TL. Even if it somehow leads to NAZIS WIN like altering history often does, there’s still something heartwarming about this particular piece of history that would make it worth living through all of the horribleness that might happen later.
It’s like a warm ember of hope that can keep someone warm through even the coldest dystopic night, carrying with it the assurance that there will be a new day coming.
This Christmas Eve, I think we could stand to embrace some of that spirit. I know I will: I intend to write just this scenario into my alternate history science fiction setting. Peace on earth!