Christmas Miracle

In class we have been talking about the prisoner’s dilemma, which gives us insight as to why a person to either cooperate or compete in a specific situation or conflict . These type of situations/conflicts have been occurring throughout history. One example from history would be Christmas during World War I when there was a cease fire between the enemies mostly between the Germans and the British.

British Solider Frank Richards stated

On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one…. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench… 

This is a great example of how the prisoner’s dilemma is present in international relations. These enemies were able to cooperate and cease fire even though it was just for a day. They had to trust that the other side wouldn’t fire at them and vice versa.  When this was first was presented to each other they weren’t sure how the other side would react, they were choosing to put their faith in the fact that they would also cease fire if they did the same. The other side also had to have faith that they weren’t walking into a trap where they would put down their weapons and then they themselves would be fired at. This situation also explained how they had a live-and-let-live system during the war, where soldiers would walk near the borders and the other soldiers would show restraint.

A British staff officer on a tour of the trenches stated that he was

“Astonished to observe German soldiers walking about within rifle range behind their own line. Our men appeared to take no notice. I privately made up my mind to do away with that sort of thing when we took over; such things should not be allowed. These people evidently did not know there was a war on. Both sides apparently believed in the policy of “live and let live.” (Dugdale 1932, p. 94)

So this may have played a part in to why they were so willing to trust each other and have a cease fire on that Christmas. My question though is why would they have even started this type of system and why would they have had a cease fire. They were enemies and what made them think to cooperate with the other side when the outcome had more of a potential of turning out bad then good.

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7 thoughts on “Christmas Miracle

  1. I thought that the situation presented in this post was very interesting, and illustrated the prisoners dilemma quite well. Both sides, not knowing the general intentions of the other chose to “cooperate”, and as a result of this cooperation both sides benefitted (with presumably no lives lost that day in their trenches.) It was a touching example of the benefits of cooperation as opposed to aggression and offensive behavior. I think it proves as an example to the goals that should be set between countries in negotiations in international relations. Everyone can benefit through cooperation and non violent means.

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  2. This is a fairly different and “refreshing” post. Even though this is not entirely topical in terms of current events you present a very interesting and accurate point that fits in perfectly with the concept of the prisoner’s dilemma. even in the most brutal of warzones there may be some sort of “dilemma” that may, even for a day, require two enemies to trust in one another.

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  3. I have heard of this Christmas story, but it is new to apply the story to the prisoner’s dilemma. I have also wonderd why they drop their weapons, while there may have been a strong possibility that they were killed by other side. One reason I come up with, of cource, is a specialty of the Christmas day. Even if people are in such extreme condition as killing others, people no less have kind of humanitarian feeling. I am relieved a bit to read this blog, and if human nature won’t change over time, it is feasible to decrease the risk of unwanted wars.

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  4. The Christmas day truce was not the first time the two sides had had a ceasefire- rather, the “live and let live” policy was apparent before christmas day when sides had unofficial ceasefires and allowed the other side to retrieve bodies, exercise and work if it was within the full view of the opposing side. Before higher ups commanded that this type of fraternisation was banned, men would engage in bartering and small talk with the other side. I think the Christmas day truce was possible because of the culture of cooperation that had existed on the battlegrounds prior to christmas. Or perhaps the soldiers didnt all have very intense urges to destroy and conquer the opposing side. Hitler did, and he abstained from christmas day football games, an indication of what could be a higher sense of nationalism than in other soldiers.

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  5. I do like how to tackled a different topic other than the Middle East. I do remember learning about the mutual acts of peace during Christmas between the British and German forces during World War I. I do think that Christmas was something that both sides had in their culture and it showed how no matter how brutal warfare can be, the soldiers involved in the fighting are only doing their job and doing what they must do. It sort of shows that the soldiers still had that humane side to them and despite being on opposite sides of battle, and enemies. They traded items and pieces of gear and came to a mutual agreement of a ceasefire.

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  6. This is an example of how two countries or two sides make a decision using common rational decision. I Think most of the time countries decide to make an international move, they represent a risk in the national society eyes, but in the international level is the solution.

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  7. Certainly a different outcome than the case in most prisoners dilemmas. The Christmas Armistice is a scenario many people could only imagine in movies but it goes to show at the end o the day the men fighting in the trenches where still men.

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