Today is the 101st anniversary of the informal “Christmas truce” during the first winter of World War I. Just after midnight on Christmas eve, German soldiers sang Christmas carols and in the morning came out of their trenches calling “Merry Christmas.” They and their counterparts in the allied forces exchanged cigarettes and snacks before returning to fighting.
Probably half those soldiers died or were wounded in the ensuing miserable four years, and nothing good happened as a result of the truce. The war went on until all the belligerents were exhausted and the United States army brought in 2 million troops to end it.
But Christmas provided a brief peace.
Now, thanks to a generous holiday schedule, those in higher education are experiencing a Christmas truce of their own. Higher education has long been beset by “culture wars”—originally a conflict over the values of Western civilization, starting perhaps with the 1988 chants at Stanford, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!” But they have reached something of a crescendo with this season’s silly skirmishes: warnings against Christmas parties “in disguise” at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; demands to erase the legacy of Woodrow Wilson at Princeton; pressure to oust a teacher at Yale for asking students to be tolerant. (You can read about most of them at the College Fix.)
It’s not clear that there is much left to fight over, though. College education doesn’t delve much into Western values any more, so the wars are all about rhetoric, not reality, and they pick up other issues as they roll along, such as “jobs” vs. “education.” But they are still mean and divisive.
In the Great War, the conflict went on as long as the countries could conscript enough soldiers and force them onto the battlefield. In a parallel way, we are conscripting students for our college campuses, by means of ever-increasing federal aid and loans and the “college for all” mantra. Like the soldiers in the Christmas truce, those students may have a long war ahead of them, with little benefit in the end.