Peace for Veterans Day

Veterans Days was originally a day to celebrate peace. The original holiday was Armistice Day which marked the end of the fighting in WWI on November 11, 1918. That day became an international holiday to remember the war and work for peace. In 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution creating Armistice Day to “commemorate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” But in 1954 it was changed to Veterans Day.

WWI was the ”war to end all wars.” It was one of the most unnecessary wars in human history. The horror of WWI did create a strong desire for peace by ordinary people. Especially in Europe, where the impact of the war was felt most, there was an unprecedented effort to prevent future wars. Following WWI a strong peace movement advocated for disarmament and the League of Nations.

The oldest peace advocacy organization, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), was started during the war. The war also resulted in the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war. Many nations, including the United States, agreed to settle disputes through peaceful means. This treaty was ratified by Congress in 1928 and is still binding federal law.

Today the original intent to promote peace has been lost. Veterans Day, as with all our patriotic holidays, has become a celebration of military service and the militarism that infuses our society. The message promoted in Veterans Day observances is that military service members are “heroes” who have defended our “freedom.” Therefore our many wars must have been heroic and necessary. Whether intentional or not, this message glorifies and justifies past wars and makes the next war possible. The message makes recruiting the next generation of “heroes” possible.

This says something about who we are and what we value. You honor and reward what you truly value. In reality we only give lip service to wanting peace and being a peaceful nation. Our history and culture are steeped in violence and militarism. Every time we start another war it is allegedly to secure “peace.” In our society war is considered the ultimate in patriotic service. Militarism, with its values of duty and obedience, is encouraged while democratic values of equality, cooperation, and compromise are discouraged. Peace advocates are not acknowledged and have often been denigrated as unpatriotic.

If we really cared about the “freedom” that veterans allegedly fought for, we would have a much more just, fair, and democratic society. Equal opportunity, civil rights, women’s rights, and social and economic justice would be actively promoted. Instead we have continuing discrimination, increasing racial and ethnic hatred, excessive incarceration, and blighted inner city and rural communities.

Veterans are members of communities. They deserve to have clean, safe, decent communities in which to live. Clean air, clean water, quality public schools, good public services, and infrastructure are needed by veterans and all of us. Working to create a better America would be a great way to thank veterans for their service.