The following selections have been taken from the beginning of two articles which appeared in the current Veterans for Peace publication, Reclaim Armistice Day 1918 – 2018. For the complete articles and others please refer to that newsletter.
A Peace to End All Wars
By David Swanson
November 11 is Armistice Day/Remembrance Day. One hundred years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, fighting ceased in the “war to end all wars.” People went on killing and dying right up until the pre-designated moment, impacting nothing other than our understanding of the stupidity of war. Thirty million soldiers had been killed or wounded and another seven million had been taken captive during World War I. Even more would die from a flu epidemic created by the war. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter, with tens of thousands falling in a day to machine guns and poison gas. After the war, more and more truth began to overtake the lies, but whether people still believed or now resented the pro-war propaganda, virtually every person in the United States wanted to see no more of war ever again. Posters of Jesus shooting at Germans were left behind, as the churches, along with everyone else, now said that war was wrong.
Al Jolson wrote in 1920 to President Harding:
The weary world is waiting
for Peace forevermore
So take away the gun
From every mother’s son
And put an end to war.
Mass slaughter and war-created famines and disease epidemics have now become almost routine, but we don’t have to stand for it. World Beyond War is organizing events all over the world on November 11, 2018. So is Veterans For Peace. So is Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. And RootsAction.org and many other organizations. Believe it or not, November 11 was not made a holiday in order to celebrate war, support troops, cheer the 17th year of occupying Afghanistan, thank anybody for a supposed “service,” or make America great again. This day was made a holiday in order to celebrate an armistice that ended what was, up until that point in 1918, one of the worst things our species had thus far done to itself, namely World War I.
World War I, then known simply as the World War or the Great War, had been marketed as a war to end war. Celebrating its end was also understood as celebrating the end of all wars. A 10-year campaign was launched in 1918 that in 1928 created the Kellogg-Briand Pact, legally banning all wars. That treaty is still on the books, which is why war-making is a criminal act and how Nazis came to be prosecuted for it…
Veterans Day is no longer, for most people, a day to cheer the elimination of war or even to aspire to its abolition. Veterans Day is not even a day on which to mourn or to question why suicide is the top killer of U.S. troops or why so many veterans have no houses at all. It’s not even a day to honestly, if sadistically, celebrate the fact that virtually all the victims of U.S. wars are non-Americans, that our so-called wars have become one-sided slaughters.
Instead, it has become a day on which to believe that war is beautiful and good. Towns and cities and corporations and sports leagues call it “military appreciation day” or “troop appreciation week.” The environmental destruction of World War 1 is ongoing today. The new weapons developed for World War 1, including chemical weapons, still kill today. World War I saw huge leaps forward in the art of propaganda still plagiarized today, huge setbacks in the struggle for economic justice, and a culture more militarized, more focused on stupid ideas like banning alcohol, and more ready to restrict civil liberties in the name of nationalism…”
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of World Beyond War and campaign coordinator for Roots Action. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime. org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, and 2017 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Reclaim Armistice Day
By Tarak Kauff
“Why, after 64 years of being replaced by “Veterans Day,” are veterans still pushing for Armistice Day (as opposed to Veterans Day) to be reinstated as a federal holiday on November 11th?
Armistice Day was first observed in 1920 with parades and public gatherings celebrating the peace that came two years earlier while solemnly remembering those millions who perished during that war.
Six years later, Congress passed a resolution that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” It took 12 more years, but finally, on May 13, 1938, November 11 became a legal federal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.” …
Armistice Day as a day “dedicated to the cause of world peace” lasted only 16 years. In 1954, in the wake of the Korean War, the powers that be thought it more fitting to honor the living veterans and glorify their sacrifice for country. Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day, changing the essence of the holiday from one dedicated to peace to one celebrating and honoring patriotism, the warriors, and the wars.
World War I was both horrific and unnecessary, an exercise in imperialism by England, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany that cost an estimated 40 million casualties, with some 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel. The 1918 flu pandemic, occurring while prisoners of war were still held, caused about one third of total military deaths for all belligerents…
When the war ended on November 11, 1918, the common people of the world, including war weary soldiers, who gained nothing, but as always lost much, rejoiced. This was the “war to end all wars”—or so the world hoped.
Veterans, many of whom have seen the futility and inhumanity of war and militarism, do not want wars for empire and profit, nor do we need to be glorified, honored, or put on pedestals for killing or being prepared to kill.
Former Veterans For Peace President Mike Ferner, a Navy Corpsman during Vietnam, said, “Lots of our fellow citizens won’t know the difference between Armistice Day and a good mattress sale on Veterans Day. Many won’t know how Armistice Day came to be called something else. Even most military veterans themselves will not understand the difference. Most churches won’t think to ring bells on 11/11 at 11:00 am. But if nothing else on this day, just look at the pictures, read just one poem by Wilfred Owen, then for just five minutes be quiet and imagine peace. That’s the least and maybe the most you can do on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. You’ll be touched deeply and ultimately glad that you did.”
What we veterans really need is for society to reclaim the spirit of Armistice Day and unite in the common desire of the human spirit for peace.
Former Army paratrooper Tarak Kauff is the managing editor of the Veterans For Peace quarterly newspaper Peace in Our Times and a former member of the Veterans For Peace national board of directors.