Veterans' Day began as "Armistice" Day, to celebrate November 11, 1918 when the guns of World War One finally stopped - and what cause for celebration there was!
From August 1914 until November 1918, 30 million soldiers were killed or wounded and another 7 million were taken captive. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter. A hint of the wreckage can be glimpsed by visiting a Great War memorial in any European town and invariably seeing a list of names long enough to include every young man who lived there at the time - hence the "lost generation."
Today we can hardly imagine the horror of the trenches where rats provided a real service by eating away at the corpses hanging on the barbed wire, in shell holes and half-buried in the walls of the dugouts.
The reality of the battlefield permeated the consciousness back home; so much so that even in America, whose troops arrived in Europe only in the closing months of the war, Congress responded to a universal hope that such a war would never happen again. It passed a resolution calling for "exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding...inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples." Later, Congress added that November 11 was to be "a day dedicated to the cause of world peace."
Armistice Day was more than a time for department store midnight madness sales. It meant more than military color guards marching in parades featuring the cleaned-up machinery of war. It was a reminder of the insane, horrific cost of war paid by soldiers at the front, those who ministered to the dead and wounded, and their families back home. It was a day to reflect on that memory and vow to learn to live in a world without war.
These days, when some still give all, but very few give some, it's easy for most of us to go on with our lives of work, shopping and family as if that's all there was. It's easy to overlook the tremendous pain and pressures caused by the multiple deployments needed for a "volunteer" military - unless someone in your family is directly involved in the fighting or is cut down by war's wide blade of "collateral damage" that can strike an Army base in Texas as well as a village in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Some truths are indeed universal. Veterans For Peace abides by two very simple ones: Wars are easy to start and hard to stop; and the innocent on all sides always suffer most.
The doughboys of WWI, shivering in the soggy, rotten trenches of Europe in November 1918, would have nodded wearily in agreement.
Mike Ferner, President
Veterans For Peace