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Christmas Truce: Facts and Myths

The UMKC Departments of History and Communication Studies, the Conservatory of Music and Dance and UMKC Libraries sponsored a showing of the 2005 French film “Joyeux Noel” for their event “The Christmas Truce of 1914: Myth and Reality.” The film was followed by a panel discussion about how the movie compared to the events of the actual Christmas Truce. The discussion took place in Miller Nichols Learning Center 451.

The film, directed by Christian Carion and starring Diane Kruger, focuses on the fraternization of French, German and Scottish soldiers on a cold Christmas Eve during World War I.  The film contrasts the brutal violence of the First World War, which would claim almost 31 million lives, with the underlying humanity found in all people, regardless of nationality.

In the roundtable discussion, professors form various departments offered their perspectives of the film in the contexts of their respective fields. The panelists included Dr. Linda Payne from the department of history and the School of Medicine, Dr. Tom Poe from the department of communication studies and Dr. Andrew Granade from the Conservatory.

Payne began by discussing the film’s historical accuracy.

“As an historian, I really think that I shouldn’t go first, because what historians do is immediately crush you with all the mythology that was in that film,” Payne said. “I think the first thing to say is that there was a Christmas Truce, and for many decades it was denied that one had taken place. Not because it was secret. In fact, the truce was publicized in letters home, it was publicized in newspapers. … .and it was widely applauded in the different countries that it occurred.”

Payne said that one of the reasons for this was that the Christmas Truce was the only truce during the World War I. She also pointed to trench warfare as one of the causes of the truce.

“What made [the Christmas Truce] possible was trench warfare,” Payne said. “The trenches are about 20-30 meters, 50-60 yards apart. They could hear each other, they had been in the same place for months, and weren’t going anywhere. The weather had been terrible. But Christmas Eve, it snows a little, gets frosty, and it feels like Christmas.”

Payne said that since the soldiers were fighting in occupied French territory, the French soldiers were reluctant to participate. She also said that other people abstained from the truce, like the Algerians, who were Muslim, fighting for France.

Poe then talked about the film in the larger context of film history. He discussed the purposes that mythicizing World War I serves in modern anti-war narratives. Poe said the film followed in the traditions of anti-war films such as “All quiet on the Western Front” and “The Grand Illusion.”

Granade then finished off the panel with a discussion of the music in the film. He talked about the film’s usage of grand heroic background music, or lack thereof. Instead, the film only emphasized music that the characters could hear.

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