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tv   Christmas time on the Battlefield  CSPAN  December 21, 2014 9:10pm-10:02pm EST

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books, some of which were devoted to our topic tonight, wartime christmases. during his 43 years at penn weintraub published 45 books. he never stopped when he retired. nobody knows for sure how many he has published, but i think it is up to 60 or thereabouts. on and on. ladies and gentlemen, i would like to present to you my mentor who responded to me when i said what do you want to be after i said my phd from bowling green, and he said words. i have tried my best to give them to him. i present to you one of the dearest friend's and mentors i have ever had. nobody does this alone. this is mine. stanley. [applause]
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>> thank you, bob. i am glad to see so many people escape from the rain inside here. [laughter] i hope that is not the only reason you're here. but it is dry inside. christmases,time is something that came upon me accidentally. to write expected about the subject or talk about it. i did spend two christmases in korea during the korean war. they were not very exciting christmases. hardly anybody knew it was until he tended to tokyo army radio and heard recordings like "i saw mommy kissing santa claus," which was not very good for morale. [laughter]
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about christmas and war. my first biography dealt with lawrence of arabia. it came out just as the movie with peter o'toole came out. that was a lucky break because people suddenly heard of me. it made it easier to write other books. the 1980's, i began work on a book on the end of world war i on the armistice on november 11, 1918. in the process of doing that research, after many previous books, i discovered there had been a truce, a cessation of christmasin the period of 1914, the first year
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of world war i. i was fascinated by the idea that the war may have stopped for good earlier. why hadn't it? was this really a truce? i went back to the history books. not all of them are accurate about this period. a number of historians who even earned knighthood in england did not even mention the christmas truce in the index of their books. it did not happen, it was a mess. -- myth. then i came upon a reference to the fact that soldiers from both french,ermans, british, played football between the trenches in no man's land. land for those of you not involved in wartime studies is the period between the two sites that is fought over,
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a period no man wants to be in. they played football. football is soccer in american terms. i discovered it was a myth, it did not really happen. who could have played football in no man's land full of shell holes and dead bodies? dead bodies truly because it was an area that you could not go into to retrieve the wounded or dead without being shot at. bodies literally littered no man's land. i went and checked further and found there was a truce. it did happen. while my wife and i were working on it, a book came out in england, a picture book of the television show about the christmas truce.
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lectures had been found in the imperial war museum -- pictures had been found in the imperial war museum of the british and germans fraternizing in no man's land. the picture book made it evident there really was such a thing. but it did not go into details about what really happened in the cases of other truce. were the french involved? where the germans involved? were there only scotsman involved in the british forces and so on? i found much of interest to go back to. we went back to england every summer looking at material. we went to the british newspaper , thery in north london library no longer exists. it was there at the time. it contained all the newspapers salvaged from the blitz.
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the library had been bombed during world war ii. many files and newspapers have been destroyed. but the british painstakingly covered all of england, wales, andscotland, and ireland found files of newspapers to replace many they had been missing. we went through those papers be anyg if they would news about the christmas truce, it would appear in those newspapers because there was not any censorship yet. although there was not any wartime censorship, correspondents were not allowed at the front lines. in a sense, there was tacit censorship. where did we find information? we found it in places like letters to the editor, strange place to do research. what happened is soldiers
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involved in the truce road home -- wrote:. it was not very far from home. it took four or five days or a week for the letters to get home. they rode home and said mom, dad, dear wife, you won't believe what happened to us. it was like a waking dream. they went on to describe how the truce had begun and how it lasted and what friends they had made from the other side and how it all began. began in a couple of unexpected ways. one of the ways, i brought a sample here, you are welcome to look at it later. box, it says christmas 1914. . it was sent by the british to their troops in flanders and in france with chocolates or candy
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or tobacco or other things for christmas. this was to lift morale. the germans discovered the british were going to do this, and so they rushed out their own boxes, wooden boxes in this case, filled with what would be typical german gifts for christmas. snacks, cigars, sausages, something typically german. the result was each side had something to swap. [laughter] they could trade christmas gifts. in addition, one of the british sayingers had big ads send plum puddings to your loved ones at christmas. the troops got so many plum puddings they did not know what to do with them all. [laughter] they were very happy to swap
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them for anything the germans were willing to swap them for. [laughter] the germans on the other side of started to christmas truce because what happened is route toas an easier bring christmas thanks to the frontlines. they did not have to cross the english channel. the tradition in germany that went back a couple of hundred years was to have tabletop for trees.- fir not big trees with all kinds of gaudy stuff on them like we have in this country. but tabletop trees so each child in the family would have his or her own tree. under it, you would put gifts. those tabletop trees perhaps 30 inches high, not even a yard high in some cases, were shipped out to tens of thousands to the front lines.
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chancesans took their and erected them on the front of their trenches. they came already with candles attached. the germans were very efficient about this. they did not just centuries -- send trees. they sent trees with candles attached. the germans attached these to their trenches and let them. the british were only a few hundred yards away and shot at them. the germans patiently redirected them. -- reerected them. [laughter] before long, the british got curious about what they were shooting at. they crawled into no man's land looking at the other side and what was all lit up. they discovered the christmas trees and the germans had crawled out from their site to meet them. the two sides agreed that yes,
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it was christmas. they were celebrating christmas. why don't we do so in daylight? this was christmas eve. why don't we get together? they could get together and swap gifts because they had all of these gifts and the british had plum puddings besides. [laughter] the result was the next morning at dawn, the british and germans called out to no man's land and began clearing the area of shell holes and dragging out the corpses from no man's land for burial. reverentlyence quite -- the two sides, quite reverently with chaplains attending, buried the dead. after they buried the dead and filled in the shell holes, they had a field to play football. the only problem was they did not have a football.
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they did not have any of the gear that goes with soccer or european football. but the improvised -- they improvised anything they could. they improvised goals. they made goals. they actually had football play between the trenches. night," whichlent is still in paper book, i have one chapter just called "football," about the games played between the lines. people did not believe this actually had happened. the we went to the imperial war museum in london which has the records of all of the units that survived. the units on both sides were supposed to prepare what they of what was diaries going on in your unit for the
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day. we found in the daily diaries the scores of the games. [laughter] they really did happen. many of the scores were very low like 3-2, but that is typical of software -- soccer, typical of european football. the germans won most of them. [laughter] but they were more professional perhaps in their backgrounds for football than the british were. but the games existed. they continued to gather between the lines until the commands discovered the truce was occurring. peace was happening. they had not ordered it. it might get contagious. the war might end. beside at might end, the most disadvantaged would not only lose, gntaged would not only lose, the government would fall.
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they could not let this happen. they had to start the war again, and so the war gradually started again. but the commanding officers of truceits involved in the did not want to fight each other. they knew each other. ir men wereher farmers, milkmen, carpenters, shoe salesman, and so on. er on then barb frontlines discovered one of his former clients from his days in england threre. he said you need a backend sides trim. [laughter] he set him up on ammunition box and cut his hair before the truce ended. the truce became more myth than anything else because it ended so quickly.
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in some cases, it lasted into new year's eve and new year's day. what happened was the two commands wanting the war to start again forced the soldiers to fight again and did so by taking the troops on the line that got to be friendly which other ended in the back into reserves and taking the reserve units and putting them forward because they were the ones who still hated the enemy. they did not have this experience. the truce therefore ended. but the truce became a matter of song and story. you find such things as "newbies christmas -- snoopy's christmas." snoopy fighting the red baron. the red baron forces snoopy down. snoopy is sure he will be shot. the red baron comes down in his plane with a bottle of champagne and says, "merry christmas, my
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friend." and they share a bottle of champagne and the red baron flies off again. it is one of many songs that exist about the christmas truce. it was fascinating to discover them. as wellthe most moving as the least historical is called "christmas in the trenches" by the folksinger john mccutchen. liness some wonderful about the troops discovering on each end of the rifle, they are the same. they did not want to fire those rivals, but they had to. historically, but it is still a moving song. you never know when you are going to find songs that deal with the christmas truce. some of them do not work at all. there is one country and western
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song by garth brooks. most of you may know his name. garth brooks has the americans involved in the christmas truce in the battle which took place in july of 1917. [laughter] softlythe snow falling on belleau wood in july. [laughter] and the americans involved. of course they weren't. but there are so many songs and that in my index in the book, it takes two pages just to list the song and stories about christmas eve. one of my favorites was told to me but a friend in england who said there is a television series called "blackadder." it is on d.v.d. so it is easy to find now. i have the d.v.d. in this case.
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officerder" is a young in the british army. war, asked later in the were you involved in the christmas truce? he says, was i involved? i was never offside. [laughter] that notow from that only did they play football, but they actually had amateur referees involved, too. he was never offside. we checked further to see about blackadder and it turns out there were seven officers who died in the war named blackadder. even though the author of the series may never have known he was writing fact, he wrote fact. very strange to discover your writing truth when you did not know you were doing it. that was the first of my christmas books. it was very successful and is still in print.
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i did not think i was going to write another one. but i was working on a book called "iron tears." it is about how the american looked from the other side, how does it look to be a loser is what this is about. the book ought to be a very big one. when i got near the end of the book, i realized i was getting into christmas 1783. , two years after the war ended. and perhaps i should end the book where the war ended, and that was where the peace treaty was signed. state to washington visit my grandsons. i was asked by their teachers to come talk about writing to the students. how do you talk to first and fourth grade students about writing?
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i figured they must know something about george washington because after all, the state is named washington. they go to the thomas jefferson school, therefore they must know something about thomas jefferson. i could talk to them about that subject. well, i did. i pointed out that i was thinking of ending the book before the feast treaty because the book was getting too long, and i ended with yorktown, the battle the british lost war.itively that ended the they wanted to know more about what happened after that. washington still had to take new york city back from the british, and he took it back at christmas 1783. they wanted to know about christmas. did washington go home for christmas? did he have a christmas treat? how did he travel? did he have a horse? what was the horses name?
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i did my research and found out the horses name was nelson. is something you may remember from this talk. i realized there was a book just in that aspect of the war. i wrote a book called "general washington's christmas farewell" about his taking of new york and traveling home as a great hero. wasywhere he went, he treated as a hero. people were very sad to learn he was going to turn in his commission angle that -- and go back to being a farmer at mount vernon. when he heard about this coming he said if washington refuses to be king, he will be the greatest man in the world. and he was the greatest man in
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the world at that time. that resulted in a second christmas book that was unexpected. i then began thinking about a book about franklin roosevelt as president during the last election, his fourth term election in 1944 during world war two. he never lived to serve out the term. he died the next april. however, many people who voted for him, many servicemen who voted for him voted by absentee ballot because they were far away in europe or the pacific. this was about a month before the battle of the bulge in december 1934 -- 1944. i began thinking that was not the first absentee ballot election. lincoln was elected to a second term in absentee ballot election.
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i thought i would look it up and see if there was a book and it. it turned out there was, someone had already written it. it was a very good book. i was very sorry to discover it was already done. [laughter] but there was still something else when i looked it up. i found general sherman, having ofen atlanta in november 1864 just after the election, crossed georgia, the famous marched through georgia into savanna. when he reached savanna about two days before christmas and took savanna when the confederates retreated, he sent , telegram to lincoln saying you have savanna for christmas. i thought, here is a book. here is the title. "savannah for christmas." i wrote a book about the march
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savannahanna -- to and wanted to title it "savannah for christmas." my publisher did not like it because he thought it would sound like a travel book. i did not tell him that was crazy because he was the publisher and he could veto it. it became "general sherman's christmas." they changed the cover after the to "generallished sherman's christmas." according to my wife, no books were sold in the south as a result because general sherman was hated. nevertheless, that was book number three about christmas. writing about christmas, in each case accidentally. i wrote a book about generals eisenhower, marshall, and
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macarthur, taking them from their beginnings to their ends. a tripartite biography. 15 stars, each one with a five-star general. it was called "15 stars." no one objected to it, although it got a dreadful subtitle awarded by the publisher. 11, i got to chapter realized the book was getting terribly long. i had to take out much of what i had written about the battle of the bulge because the book had to be shortened. i don't like to waste words. i reuse them. i recycled chapter 11 into a book called "11 days in december," which was about the battle of the bulge and how the battle of the bulge ended on
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christmas day, 1944. it ended on christmas day tly because a great man, a great general who was also may be a lousy human being, general george patton. patton was in command of the third army and new the third army had to charge -- trudge through the snow and cold to somehow relieve the siege of bastogne, a town in belgium which was holding up the german advance. if he captured bastogne, he would stop the germans altogether. he tried to figure out how to do it because the weather was terrible. luxembourgchapel in on the edge of the border between belgium and luxembourg, a medieval chapel. he was not a roman catholic. he was episcopalian.
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but he knelt at the chapel and prayed to god as if god were a superior general. and said, god, i need your help. i need good weather to kill germans. so we cand weather beat the germans. he got up from his prayer. it was overheard by his aides with him. not anything i made up or anyone else made up. they went back to work. they broke the siege of bastogne trade the sun came out, the bomber's flew. thepatton was the hero of battle of the bulge. one never knows how something is going to turn into a christmas book. something that continued
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for me. look about ath wartime christmas because i had written an earlier one about pearl harbor. i don't know if bob has it on the shelf. "long days journey into war" was trade iiment on my part wanted to write about every hour , becauseer 7, 1941 franklin roosevelt said in his decemberon to congress 11, 1941, is a date that will live in infamy. he did not say day. he said date. the twoonfuse regularly. i wanted to deal with the date. 7 or anys december
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other day on the west side of the international date line. that is when the day begins. it is just east of new zealand that the day begins. i began where december the seventh began and i covered every hour it was december 7 west ofcember 7 ended hawaii, west of pearl harbor, and became december 8. was aone of those dates different time elsewhere in the world. i think it was my wife's idea. i have four clocks at the heading of each chapter. one was for the actual time i , the success of time in history it was december 7. the next were major places where
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big events were taking place, the date and time in russia, england, and so on. book not about onrl harbor but a world war december 7. the book was republished in paperback, i gave it a new subtitle and called it "long day's journey into a world at war." that book, i thought, did the job for me. i even had a little epilogue dealing with the aftermath, the cleaning up of pearl harbor at the date. i realized that was not really the aftermath. the aftermath took a month or more after pearl harbor.
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not only that, but when pearl harbor happened, roosevelt called winston churchill at his home in london and said we are at war, we are on your side. the japanese have attacked us. it was about 9:00 in the evening and churchill was having his dinner. thatad of being shocked his own forces were being destroyed in the far east, he was elated because he told the american ambassador who was with him at dinner, "we are saved. we are going to win the war. we are saved because america has entered the war." but he added, "i must get to the white house to talk with the president about how to win the war." he said, why not give him time to digest what is going on? churchill said i must go before
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he makes some very bad decisions. churchill was the one who usually made the bad decisions, by the way. [laughter] a great many of them were bad. the churchill was advised not to fly because the north atlantic crossing was very bad. he could only get as far as laboratory -- at best and then he would have to fly further into united states. it might take three flights. he might be marooned for days waiting for good weather. battleship. he took the newest battleship in the british fleet and came across as set himself up in the white house -- and set himself up in the white house. this is where fiction anticipates history. it reminded me of a play that was a big hit on broadway the year before called "the man who came to dinner."
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it is a play about a very famous radio broadcaster. there was no t.v. back then. he was known for his voice and the fact he was a terrible man. a lot of this fits churchill just as well. churchill came to the white house and stayed, just as the man who came to dinner stayed in the play. in the case of the man who came to dinner, when he was finally shooed out of the house because he was so obnoxious, he fell down the stairs and broke his leg and had to be carried back in and they were stuck with him for a long time thereafter. well, churchill state into january at the white house. the food was good. the liquor was good. and he drank a lot of it. it was also at no cost to his majesty's government, so he remained.
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out --roosevelt frost thrashed out how the war would continue. roosevelt was forced to gear up for war far more than he anticipated he could do at the urging of churchill. churchill was at the white house for the formal lighting of the christmas tree on christmas eve and spoke to a big audience on the grounds of hyde park and then went to congress the day after christmas and spoke to you have to said -- remember his mother was american and his father was english. he said if my father were american and my mother were english instead of the other way around, i might be talking to you here as president. [laughter] he was not a shy man, as you can tell. that book became "pearl harbor
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christmas," about the period when franklin roosevelt and winston churchill met at the white house and talked about the war. i thought i was finished with wartime christmas is. a fan of my book in new york state wrote to me and said i know you are a veteran of korea. why have it you written a book about wartime korea at christmas? he suggested a topic for me to write about, that the marines were embattled when the chinese came down from manchuria. the marines were desperate -- in desperate conditions because general macarthur, who did not know the meaning of overreach, overreached and should not have had his troops up there near manchuria.
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somehow, they had to get extricated from where they were and get home. in northwere sent korea to try to rescue the troops. but they had to get to the harbor. which comes out november printis now officially in , it is called "a christmas far from home, an epic tale of courage and survival during the korean war." that was not my title. as usual, publishers think they know better because they did not write the book. [laughter] i wanted it called "escape into christmas." the book ends literally on christmas eve at 3:00 in the afternoon. it does not end on christmas.
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it is not about a christmas far from home. it is about the period before christmas when they were far from home. nevertheless, that is the title of the book. i call it "escape into christmas, and i hope that is how you will remember it. it was a fascinating story to talk about because the marines are the elite of the american armed forces. there is no question they remain the elite of the american armed forces with their, standards of combat and behavior are far better than that of other troops. when i was in the army in korea and not in the marines. nevertheless, the marines were shot at and had to get down as fast as they could from the hills of north korea. it was very difficult for them
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to do so because of the weather. 30 below zero. high winds. trackless waste to travel on. the weather so bad their planes cannot fly much of the time, that they wanted to get home. they were longing for christmas at home because general macarthur had come to visit them briefly for a few hours just before thanksgiving day and had said, "i'm going to have you boys home for christmas. the war will be over." they remembered that, but of course he lied. they were not home for christmas. but they remembered christmas. almost everything they saw reminded them of christmas. with grenadesing whenped to their chests they were wet with snow and ice
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reminded them of a christmas ,ree with christmas decorations the grenades around the chest. they look at the forest covered with snow and were being bombed at. they talked about them as being christmas trees on fire. everything reminded them of christmas, except they had one thing they must do. this is where i will close. they had to get across the 4000 foot chasm. the chinese have blown the bridge. how do you cross the 4000 foot chasm with no bridge? 30 below zero? dark and snowing question mark found a way. the air force dropped treadway .irders for a bridge the combat engineers built a bridge with these girders dropped by parachute that
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crossed the chasm under fire. it was a very narrow bridge and dangerous to cross. standingsed with men in front of each vehicle with a flashlight reminding them where to go. they had only two inches of clearance on each side for their tanks. if they did not make it, they dropped 4000 feet. one truck did loaded with living and dead. it must have been a terrible sight to see. anyway, that chapter is probably the most dramatic chapter i have ever written in any book of mine. what they had to go through to cross the chasm and get to safety, but they did. , 93 of them with over 100,000 marines on
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christmas eve 1950. but there is a surprise ending i am not going to tell you about. [laughter] because i want you to read the book. right end now it is up to you if you have any questions. thank you for listening. [applause] >> dr. weintraub, thank you so much. i was a history major. [indiscernible] >> i can't hear you. somebody will have to carry the message for you. >> thank you so much for coming. we have heard a lot about this for the past number of weeks. i have two questions.
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first, i was wondering if you would be able to speak to your educational background. it sounds like you might have more of a background in english and how that has played into writing history. second, i was wondering if you ever considered writing a book about prisoners of war during christmas time. >> there are a lot of questions there. war longinterested in before i was in a war. middle1930's, i am in my 80's, in the 1930's i was a kid. i collected bubblegum cards. bubblegum cards were not only of baseball players, but they were war cards back then. the war in china, spain, ethiopia. i collected all those bubblegum cards and was fascinated by war. the cards were erroneous and
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very propagandistic in many ways, but they got me interested. i still have 230 of them. i saved them all this time. war became of interest to me. i began writing a history of the war in a little notebook when i was 10 years old. it was not very good. what i learned was only from the newspapers. eventually, i gave it up. but i was trying to write about war. when i went into the service, all officers sent to korea were required to sign a document that they would not keep a diary. i don't know whether i was lying or not, but i had little three by five notebook papers. out pages from this and write about interesting things that happened on many
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days of the war. i kept them. i still have many of them, i think. that became the material for my first book on the korean war. this is my third book on the korean war. they are all different. but nevertheless, i was learning all the time. you can't learn any better than you could learn from real experience. real experience is not enough. you have to be able to write. you learn how to write by writing. you learn how to write by doing a lot of reading. i did a lot of both and learn how to write -- learned how to write. i did not get a degree in history set as an undergraduate. i wanted to go on in history, but i could not get a teaching assistantship in history. the result was i grabbed what i
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could and got a teaching assistantship in english. i eventually became a phd in english but continued to write history. it did not bother anybody. i think i did ok. [laughter] but i hope that answers your question. any other query? >> [indiscernible] i missed it. >> have you considered writing [indiscernible] what i consider writing a christmas history what i consider writing a christmas history -- he would have to find christmas. i have run out of wars. i don't know a thing about vietnam, which was his war. i don't know if there was any
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christmas component in vietnam. he could answer that but you would probably have to go to a mic so everyone would. . -- would hear you. the closest i came to that was in 1968 when the north vietnamese and the viet cong broke the truce declared for that particular year. that is it. [laughter] >> but it was not a christmas truce. >> it was sort of a christmas truce. it was the vietnamese new year, which is sort of christmas, easter am a fourth of july, all in one.up >> like the christmas truce garth brooks sang about in july. [laughter] >> i did have one question for you. very proudcorps is of the chosen reservoir campaign.
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that is really true. they teach this campaign to their officers in their basic school. also, they teach gallipoli as well. but did you find in your the quality of the junior officers and the senior enlisted are what the marine corps says they were? the marine corps is very proud of j.o.'s and keeping it all together. did you find this in your research as well? think they have been lucky that senior noncommissioned officers have been willing to stay as a career because they provide the bulwark of how one learns what to do in the armed services. i can't say the same is true with officers because there is the problem of aging gray.
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one of my lieutenants in korea was a special exception. he was a second lieutenant who should have been canned because he was over 29 years old. supposed to be a second lieutenant in your 30's. but for special political reasons, he was kept on. rank inay affects every commissioned officers. it does not affect enlisted people. you can be a corporal and be 59 years old, but you cannot be a lieutenant and be 59 years old. it is the senior noncommissioned officers who really make the difference in an army. it is important for the armed services to try to retain them. reservoirnt in the for sure.
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i just said it was certainly important in the chosen reservoir campaign, especially during the retreat. i have no further answers. i could go on talking and talking because that is what i do regularly. [laughter] but i think you have probably heard enough of me. if any of you would like to see the christmas box, you are welcome to do so. rodelle is going to have it and show it if people want to see it before they leave. i will be glad to talk to anybody personally who wants to come up and talk to me. thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its
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caption content and accuracy. visit] of the a look on some programming you will find christmas day. the lighting in the national christmas tree followed by the white house decorations and the lighting of the capitol christmas tree. just after 12 30 p.m., celebrity activists talk about their causes. theel alito and jeb bush on bill of rights and the founding fathers. on c-span 2, venture into the art of good writing with steve pinker. see the feminist side of a superhero as we look at the history of wonder woman.
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talking about their reading habits. and on american history tv on c-span 3, the fall of the berlin wall with george bush and bob dole, speeches from john kennedy and ronald reagan. experts, first lady's fashion experts and representing the style of the times. and then former nbc news anchor tom brokaw on his more than 50 years of reporting on american events. that's this christmas day on the c-span networks. for a complete schedule, visit years ago on december 24, 1814, the treaty of ghent was signed by negotiators from great britain and the united states in ghent, belgium. next on american artifacts, we visit the octagon museum and the treaty room where president madison signed the


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