November 11, Veterans Day, is a day to honor all who have served in the U.S. armed forces. But somehow the day has become more a celebration and display of militarism than a day to celebrate veterans.
That is especially unfortunate and ironic because the date was first observed as Armistice Day, a day to celebrate the end of World War I and promote world peace. Veterans for Peace, a national veterans organization, is working to reclaim that legacy.
World War I, the “war to end all wars” ended on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Thirty-eight million combatants and civilians had been killed or wounded. The world was horrified by the carnage.
Congress responded to a hope among Americans for no more wars by passing a resolution calling on Armistice Day to be marked by “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.” Later, Congress added that Nov. 11 was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day, and in the years since it has morphed into a flag-waving display of patriotism that often seems to honor the military and war as much as it does those who served.
Dwight D. Eisenhower put it well: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.” Speaking at West Point, he said, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men. “
Vietnam Veterans Against the War has long had a slogan, “Honor the warrior, not the war.”
That is exactly what Veterans Day should do. It is not at all incompatible to honor veterans while promoting peace and an end to war as an instrument of foreign policy.
That is what Veterans for Peace has done since 1985, honoring veterans while educating the public about the true costs of war. Ironically, the organizers of Milwaukee’s Veterans Day parade have refused to allow the local Veterans for Peace chapter to take part in the parade. In Milwaukee, there is no place for peace on Veterans Day.
Veterans for Peace will observe Armistice Day with a program in the City Hall rotunda on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.