Today we celebrate Armistice Day aka Remembrance Day aka Veterans Day.
If you were to ask people how Veterans Day came about, most would identify this as a day to honor past and present military personnel. But this is only half of the story. Most people have no understanding of what ‘Armistice’ means. How did the ‘laying down of arms’ aka PEACE aspect of ‘Armistice’ become lost in the shuffle?
There are countless Veterans Day articles acknowledging our service personnel, but where are the articles detailing how we will end the wars we are fighting today? When will “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” become a reality in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, etc? And why is there so little discussion of these concerns on this day, ‘Armistice aka PEACE Day’?
Here are a few exerpts from a timely and brilliantly written article in today’s STARS AND STRIPES:
“What We Lost When Armistice Day Ended” by Jack Woodville London
President Woodrow Wilson was a celebrity at the Versailles peace negotiations, his Fourteen Points calling boldly for a League of Nations to ensure peace forever. That was what the armistice meant: War had failed, peace had won. America stood for peace.
A week later, the Senate rejected the League of Nations treaty. For the next two decades, America stood at a remove from the world’s only diplomatic body that might have effected peace.
In 1931, President Herbert Hoover spoke of peace to dedicate the national temple of Armistice Day that our nation erected in a quiet grove near the Lincoln Memorial.
In 1932 the unemployed, hungry and homeless veterans came to Washington to lobby for their promised pay — and were turned away. On July 28, Hoover ordered that they clear out of Washington. Gen. Douglas MacArthur interpreted the order to mean he should wipe out the camps the old veterans had set up across the Potomac, and he attacked the men he had led in battle 14 years earlier. The assault played heavily on voters, who turned Hoover out in the election.
In 1938, the Congress that wanted nothing more to do with European wars made the 11th of November a legal holiday, “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day,’” For the first time, the United States formally honored the end of a war rather than the day a war had begun, such as the battles of Lexington and Concord, the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861, the sinking of the Maine.
We honored Armistice Day in 1940 anyway, and again in 1941, a month before Pearl Harbor. For the next four years we still celebrated Armistice Day, even while the world heaved under bombs, guns and battleships.
After Korea, the average American no longer thought “armistice” meant peace. It now meant “a miserable line drawn between northern and southern Korea that marked the place where in July 1953 poorly trained, equipped, and led Chinese and Korean communists had forced American soldiers into a stalemate.” Armistice now meant humiliation, and its holiday was at an end.
In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day. Without debate or protest, 35 years of nominally celebrating the laying down of arms passed into history.
Then, in the division over the Vietnam War, Congress dismissed even the semblance of Nov. 11 as a day to give peace a chance; the holiday moved to the fourth Monday of October to assure a three-day weekend. In 1978, Congress restored the date but not the occasion or even the honor, continuing under the name Veterans Day.
Almost one century after the peace that gave birth to Veterans Day, the end of the war to end all wars is a mote in the dustbin of history. Our collective memory of the guns going silent around the world at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, has failed us. The Armistice Memorial in Washington is thoroughly decayed and rarely visited.
But the speeches, the news opinion articles and talk shows, the notion of what it is that we are honoring on 11/11 now carry the unmistakable message that our pride no longer comes from a continual search for peace but from our military might.