It’s been 101 years since the Armistice was signed that ended the First World War. That war was so horrific it was viewed as the war to end all wars. People wanted peace.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, but it wasn’t until 1938 and after many states had already made Armistice Day a legal holiday, that Congress made Nov. 11 in each year a legal holiday with the words describing it as “… a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.”
For over three decades, Armistice Day was celebrated as a day dedicated to remembering and recognizing world peace was a goal. Then in 1954, Congress amended the Act of 1938 that created Armistice Day by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place, the word “Veterans.” That same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which began with the words: “WHEREAS it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace (emphasis added) …”
It was at this juncture the emphasis and reason for the day began to drift from remembering to dedicate ourselves to the cause of peace, to emphasizing the service of veterans (heroes) to their country. This is certainly very fitting when that service is necessary to defend the country, and necessary somehow [to] bring about peace through the action of war when negotiation and arbitration have failed, as was the case of the Second World War.
Yet, in the recent decades, the U.S. wars, including the Vietnam War, the Iraq wars, the 18-year war in Afghanistan and the “war on terrorists” in many countries, [make] it seem this country has forgotten the real meaning of Armistice Day — rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace. Clearly, if peace had been at the forefront of our leaders’ thinking and mission, these wars would have been avoided.
Maybe it is human nature to be warlike. History is full of wars. Our recent attempts at promoting peace among nations have failed. The League of Nations, formed after World War One, failed to keep the peace. The United Nations, formed after World War Two, does not have a very good track record of fostering peace. Can we not simply live and let others live, rather than impose our way of being on others?
What will it take for us humans to realize peace is in our collective interest? Maybe a common enemy? So far, the enemy has been another nation or an alliance of other nations. But now, the looming common enemy is clearly showing its powerful mettle to all of us. Though alarm and fear are spreading in the face of this enemy, we do not fully and collectively acknowledge it is in our common interest to band together to face the enemy. Probably because that enemy is exactly us. We humans, collectively, are the ones creating the enemy — the climate crisis/emergency.
Maybe this common enemy will make us realize the many trillions of dollars spent on militarization and war by the U.S. and many other nations is better spent to promote the peace and do the work necessary to meet the challenge of the climate crisis/emergency.
I am not very hopeful our leaders are capable of making changes required. They are too caught up in the culture and patterns of the past to make the change of course. In the meantime, in the very little time we have, there are hundreds of actions individuals can take to face the challenge. And who knows, collectively, billions of small individual actions may just change the course of history.
A good first action is to change Veterans Day back to Armistice Day and a return to emphasizing and dedicating ourselves to the cause of peace.
Richard Czaplinski represents Will Miller Green Mountain Veterans For Peace, Chapter 57, as its president.