Sunday, November 08, 2009

Armistice Day, Veteran's Day

This was posted by me as a comment to another journal on OKCupid. The writer wrote about Veteran's Day, and made what I considered a few minor, yet specific errors in her otherwise well-written essay.

First error: "The holiday was established as Armistice Day in 1918 to honor soldiers who have served this country in the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy."

Second error: "It’s not a day of remembrance, but of recognition."

I thought I'd put my comment here in my journal as well. First, to give paragraph breaks. ;) Secondly, so others who read my own journal may see where I stand on the issue.


Just a point of historical correction. The first Armistice Day was declared in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the end of the war. As the years went on, Congress decided to formalize the purpose of the Holiday, and passed an Act of Congress. As Wikipedia puts it: An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."

It was only after World War II and Korea that Armistice Day changed in meaning, from the dedication to world peace, to the commemoration of Veteran's service. In a way, I believe that this disenfranchised many people, such as the civilian contributors to wartime efforts, and those that strive for peaceful outcomes -- to ameliorate present conflicts and prevent future ones. If we returned to the original intent, then the vast majority of the world, civilians and soldiers alike, can feel invested in the cause of the day.

Lastly, I must correct this point of yours. For it is a day of remembrance. Indeed, around the nations of the British Commonwealth, it is still called "Remembrance Day," in commemoration of the Armistice and those that fought and died to achieve the peace that follows war. To remember, they wear the red poppy, symbolizing the fallen soldiers, strewn like flowers on the field.

Call me a traditionalist, but I believe that we should all remember that 20 million died in the First World War. 72 million in the Second World War. And, especially in the latter conflict, and to the present day, it is the civilians who suffer the vast majority of casualties. A mother huddled in a house, sheltering her children from the onslaught around her, knows the same -- if not greater -- threats and fears of battle as any soldier. All-too-often she and her children suffer the same fate the soldiers do. Armistice Day is now called Veteran's Day. Yet truly recall and reflect this year on the origins of the holiday, thank you.


This is not to disrespect the contributions and sacrifices of anyone in uniform. Indeed, anyone who knows my past will know the work I have done in analysis and commemoration of military history. Yet so long as we segregate the holiday to honor only those who wore a uniform (about 10% of the U.S. population), it bifurcates our populace, with the majority of the civilian population seeming only to mark the day as one of increased shopping discounts. How do we ensure that all people would reflect on the dangers of our world, and those who strove, and still work to keep us safe from them?

Ninety one years ago on this 11th of November was the original Armistice of the Great War. There was not a Second World War yet. Indeed, they had hoped that it would be the "war to end all wars." Sadly, there would be no "peace for our time." And through this very day, chaotic, violent wars are still being fought in dozens of conflict zones spanning both hemispheres. What can we do between now and the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice, the 11th of November 2018?

For me, and for some certain friends of mine, we are returning to an original intent. We are personally referring henceforth to the day as Armistice Day. Not out of spite to any veteran, but to remind all -- civilian and military -- that the origin of the national, indeed, global holiday was to ensure that we never again commit our nations to the horrific destructive methods and ends we, and our forefathers, sought in the past. That we seek a world where the amelioration and end to such horrors is a goal and an ethical standard we all must commit ourselves to.

So how about you? Would you support returning to the original intent of the holiday, and to call it Armistice Day? Should we specifically commemorate the uniformed veterans only, or should we consider the entirety of those involved -- civil government as well as military, those who serve in NGOs, the war correspondents, the peacemakers and the peacekeepers, the civilians and refugees. Can we use this day, once per year, to honor all those who suffer from war, and those who contribute to the cessation of hostilities. Can we commit ourselves, united again to the cause of world peace?

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