what techno music and war have in common - English

Make Party, not War!

By Jesse Van Mouwerik11.12.2014Culture and Society

In the trenches of the First World War, Christmas and electronic music have more in common than one might think.


Getty/ Hulton Archiv

The trenches of the First World War do not seem like they would have much in common with electronic music at first glance. Surprisingly, they have more in common than one might think. The explanation begins, like many childishly hopeful ideas do: with a Christmas story.

Whether you are a non-religious European who annually attends church out of tradition, or a Japanese Shinto/Buddhist who decorates a Christmas tree for Santa Claus, each year people around the world find ways to make December a time for tradition and togetherness. Also in December, friends and family in more peaceful parts of the world look upon international news headlines and ponder life in parts of the world where such togetherness is not occurring.

War is not man’s natural state

The state of international affairs rarely denies pessimists, offensive realists, or even just the minimally informed, an array of opportunities to perpetuate the idea that war, conflict and destruction are an inevitable part of human nature. Our happy holidays are not the norm, but rather the exception to the routine events of corruption and chaos that permeate through our world. At least that is what we are told.

While the capacity to be either peaceful or violent certainly exists within every human being, that doesn’t by itself justify the idea that the natural state of man is war. Frankly, if the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD teaches us anything, it’s that a world where conflict is natural wouldn’t produce so many humans who are mentally scarred upon their return from war zones. This is where the trenches come in.

1914 was the year of the First World War’s famous Christmas truces. I say truces because there was not only one. Ceasefires occurred in multiple fighting zones at different times. Many started as tense prisoner swaps that eventually gave way to cigarette swaps and some light fraternizing. They were not officially orchestrated by any high command, but actually organically developed on their own. In the years after 1914, commanders on both sides actually had to work to forbid ceasefires after reports came out that some enemy soldiers were regularly visiting each other’s trenches.

The most famous ceasefire was among British and German regiments around Christmas Eve. German soldiers actually decorated their trenches with Christmas trees and began singing carols. British forces began singing back, and in a matter of hours over 100,000 troops were unofficially crossing into disputed territory to sing, exchange gifts, and celebrate with one another. This all occurred, mind you, during the second bloodiest conflict in European history.

In today’s world, there is no great war, but a splintered stage of conflicting ideologies and intentions that divide us. Technology allows us to exchange many of our physical and political borders for psychological ones. There are no more massive trenches except for the ones embedded in our beliefs. No man’s land is no longer a place on a map, but a corner of the mind.

Today’s young people in the trenches

The European Union, though not a warzone, is still in the midst of its most divisive political and economic crisis since its inception. These divisions are mainly of identity, and invisible to the naked eye. My reasons for optimism, however, come less from the high command of today, but instead from the young people in the trenches. Since 2011, I have seen various lectures on the state of the European Union from an array of academics, politicians and pundits. None of their words give me more confidence in the EU than what I gather from watching groups of Erasmus students getting drunk together at Berlin night clubs that play endless hours of repetitive electronic music.

The Eurozone Crisis does not have the carnage of trench warfare, but like the geopolitics of the First World War, we face the paradox of comradery where it theoretically shouldn’t exist. Young people in 2014, just like the youth of 1914, are the ones who are arguably the most screwed-over by the geopolitics of our time and have the most reason to be upset. Yet young people in their late teens and early 20’s are getting along with other nationalities better than any generation before them. A stunning amount of this happens in celebratory settings, particularly in nightclubs where DJs and lightshows are the main attraction.

Obviously, listening to house music on its own sets a very a low bar for diplomacy, but whether it’s club beats now or Christmas carols 100 years ago, the world needs settings where nationhood, ideology, or cultural background don’t get in the way of some celebratory fun.

This year’s 100th anniversary of peace in some of Europe’s deadliest trenches should not be looked at as a kooky anomaly, but rather as a reminder that whatever hurdles must be overcome to improve our world today, sometimes the will to do so starts with a simple celebration.



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