100 years ago today World War I ended with the signing of an armistice agreement ceasing hostilities.
Although the numbers are imprecise, over 16 million people died and about 23 million were wounded in the conflict.
Stop and think about that. It is unimaginable, isn’t it? But it really happened. And no one wanted it to ever happen again.
So, November 11 was remembered after that as Armistice Day.
The original objective in singling the day out was to reflect and to focus on peace.
In signing the 1919 proclamation, President Woodrow Wilson noted that “… the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.”
Armistice Day became a legal holiday in the United States in 1938. The Congressional Act described it as a “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
And yet, as we all know, World War II happened, with over 60 million killed – staggering numbers and truly incomprehensible devastation.
In 1954, in the United States, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day. In that proclamation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called upon citizens to remember the sacrifices of those who fought, and he urged, “let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
And yet, war has become pervasive.
After numerous conflicts, even now, the United States is at war in seven countries, continually creating more veterans. The nation maintains about 800 military bases in more than 70 countries, and secured a mind-boggling $717 billion defense budget for 2019. Worse, we must question the very purposes in the military actions taking place.
If we truly wish to honor veterans on Veterans Day, we should be talking about peace. By focusing on peace, we do the highest and best we can to honor those who have served and seen firsthand the horrors of war.
Veterans for Peace observes, however, that Veterans Day has evolved into something different, noting, “Honoring the warrior quickly morphed into honoring the military and glorifying war.”
The group seeks to Reclaim Armistice Day in order to keep the focus on the pursuit of peace. It’s a worthy goal.
We must seek peace among nations and within our nation. We need to stop accepting, normalizing, funding, and promoting ever-increasing militarism and militarization.
We must seek peace for our veterans, too.
We lose about 20 veterans a day to suicide. That’s 20 people a day who served in our military forces suffering and choosing to end their lives.
Then, there’s all the veterans who suffer with injuries, disabilities, PTSD, substance abuse, homelessness, and poverty.
If we are to really honor veterans, we should make it a goal to stop creating more of them, and we should look to better support them in their struggles in the aftermath of their service.
Let’s make it about peace.