Why does Snoopy (in persona World War I Flying Ace) always get his ass kicked by the Red Baron? It’s Snoopy’s own fantasy. You’d think he would win these air skirmishes (I am trying my best to avoid “dogfight” puns).
I find myself asking this question during December, when Christmas carols are in the air, including an obscure favorite of mine, Snoopy’s Christmas. Written and performed by The Royal Guardsmen, Snoopy’s Christmas is a work of fan fiction, set in WWI – or rather, in Snoopy’s imagined WWI – wherein Snoopy is a pilot whose arch-nemesis is a renowned German Empire fighter pilot known as The Red Baron.
True to the pattern set within Charles Schulz’s cartoon, The Royal Guardsmen have Snoopy getting quickly outmatched by The Red Baron. He gets completely owned within the same verse that he takes flight, just as in the cartoon, where he’s always getting shot down or has already been shot down and is lost behind enemy lines.
Again I ask, why? Why would one have a fantastical recurring daydream, laced with such horror and failure? I have a theory: the word “failure” calls to mind the star of Peanuts, Snoopy’s owner Charlie Brown, does it not? Suppose then, that this Flying Ace obsession is all Snoopy’s way of relating to Charlie Brown; by acting out a long saga of miserable failure.
To test my theory, I embarked upon an internet deep-dive regarding The Red Baron, WWI, and particularly the encounter described in Snoopy’s Christmas. Numerous corners of the internet repeat with confidence that Snoopy’s Christmas is set against the backdrop of a true, actual, historical event, known as the Christmas Truce of 1914. Upon further research, I have my doubts.
You see, it is widely accepted that there were no beagles piloting aircraft in combat during 1914, and I discovered further, in my research, that Manfred von Richthofen, aka, “The Red Baron,” was not piloting aircraft in 1914 either. He did not even begin to train as a pilot until 1915.
No Richthofen at the Christmas Truce of 1914, and no airborne beagles. Fact.
The Royal Guardsmen, I will say further, also knew that this incident involving Snoopy and Richthofen did not occur in 1914. The first verse makes this clear:
“The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more”
In order for the song to make sense, we must assume that the Red Baron had 1) been flying, 2) ceased flying for some period of time, and 3) returned to flight, as of the time of the scenario being described in the song. No such series of events had occurred as of December 1914. However, a matching timeline can be found in 1917. The Red Baron sustained a head wound in the summer of 1917, and his return to flight was in question, following that. Surprising the world, he returned to flight by October of the same year. And so, Christmas 1917 would meet the perfect timeline for “news to have broken,” that the Red Baron was “flying once more”, leading the Allies to respond by deploying Snoopy to the area.
Furthermore, Manfred von Richthofen died in April of 1918. We therefore must conclude that December of 1917 is the only time when the events described by The Royal Guardsmen in Snoopy’s Christmas can occur.
And here, the Snoopy saga takes a dark turn. Understand a bit about the details of the death of The Red Baron: he was fatally wounded during a dogfight (fine, I’ll say it) with Canadians, who were piloting Sopwith Camels. Interestingly enough, Sopwith Camel is not only the actual name of an aircraft, but it is always Snoopy’s aircraft of choice, throughout Peanuts. It would seem to me, that by placing his Snoopy character in such a specific aircraft, Charles Schulz is strongly implying that Snoopy was in the skies on that fateful day when Manfred von Richthofen was sent to the grave. Among historians, there is much controversy and speculation over who fired the shot that killed Richthofen. A strong case may be made that it was Snoopy.
If you listen to the whole Snoopy’s Christmas song, and consider the timing and nature of Richthofen’s death, you’ll notice that Snoopy killed Richthofen mere months after Richthofen had spared Snoopy’s life, called him “my friend,” and shared a Christmas toast.
This is disturbing.
If Snoopy’s persistently failing Flying Ace character is supposed to be some sort of parallel to Charlie Brown’s tortured existence of failure, then what are we to make of this peculiarly morbid ultimate success? Certainly, in the context of the war, Snoopy merely followed orders, by killing his Christmas “friend,” but it is difficult to imagine a more tormenting and hallow victory. What then of Charlie Brown? Is Snoopy’s Christmas an ominous foreshadowing of a parallel arc for him, full of horror and devastation? Does Charlie Brown one day marry the red-headed girl, but only via a deadly betrayal of, I don’t know, maybe Linus?
Anyway, Snoopy’s Christmas is one of my favorite carols! I hope you like it as much as I do! You can listen to Snoopy’s Christmas right here: