David Swanson / The Humanist & John Reuwer, MD / World BEYOND War & Neal Cassidy – 2018-11-11 19:08:21
Celebrate Armistice Day, Not Veterans Day
David Swanson / The Humanist
(November 7, 2018) — Do not celebrate Veterans Day on Sunday. Celebrate Armistice Day instead.
Do not celebrate Veterans Day on November 11 — because of what it has become, and even more so because of what it replaced and erased from US culture.
Former American Humanist Association President Kurt Vonnegut (who, incidentally, was born on November 11, in 1922) once wrote: “Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not. So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.”
By “sacred” Vonnegut meant wonderful, valuable, worth treasuring. He listed Romeo and Juliet and music as other “sacred” things.
Exactly at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, 100 years ago this Sunday, people across Europe suddenly stopped shooting guns at each other. Up until that moment they were killing and being hit, falling and screaming, moaning and dying from bullets and from poison gas. And then they stopped at 11:00 in the morning one century ago.
They stopped on schedule. It wasn’t that they’d gotten tired or come to their senses. Both before and after 11 o’clock they were simply following orders. The armistice agreement that ended World War I had set 11 o’clock as quitting time, a decision that allowed 11,000 more men to be killed in the six hours between the agreement and the appointed hour.
In subsequent years that hour — that moment of an ending of a war that was supposed to end all war, that moment that had kicked off a worldwide celebration of joy and of the restoration of some semblance of sanity — became a time of silence, of bell ringing, of remembering, and of dedicating oneself to actually ending all war.
That was what Armistice Day was. It wasn’t a celebration of war or of those who participate in war, but of the moment a war had ended.
Congress passed an Armistice Day resolution in 1926 calling for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding . . . inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Later, Congress added that November 11 was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
We don’t have so many holidays dedicated to peace that we can afford to spare one. If the United States were compelled to scrap a war holiday, it would have dozens to choose from, but peace holidays don’t just grow on trees. Mother’s Day has been drained of its original meaning. Martin Luther King Day has been shaped around a caricature that omits all advocacy for peace. Armistice Day, however, is making a comeback.
Armistice Day, as a day to oppose war, had lasted in the United States up through the 1950s and even longer in some other countries under the name Remembrance Day. It was only after the United States had nuked Japan, destroyed Korea, begun a Cold War, created the CIA, and established a permanent military industrial complex with major permanent bases around the globe, that the US government renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day on June 1, 1954.
Veterans Day is no longer, for most people, a day to cheer the ending of war or even to aspire to its abolition. Veterans Day is not even a day on which to mourn the dead or to question why suicide is the top killer of US troops or why so many veterans have no houses.
Veterans Day is not generally advertised as a pro-war celebration. But chapters of Veterans For Peace are banned in some small and major cities, year after year, from participating in Veterans Day parades, on the grounds that they oppose war.
Veterans Day parades and events in many cities praise war, and virtually all praise participation in war. Almost all Veterans Day events are nationalistic. Few promote “friendly relations with all other peoples” or work toward the establishment of “world peace.”
It was for this coming Veterans Day that President Donald Trump had proposed a big weapons parade for the streets of Washington, D.C. — a proposal happily canceled after it was met by opposition and almost no enthusiasm from the public, media, or military.
Veterans For Peace, on whose advisory board I serve, and World BEYOND War, which I am the director of, are two organizations promoting the restoration of Armistice Day and helping groups and individuals find resources for holding Armistice Day events.
In a culture in which presidents and television networks lack the subtlety of a show-and-tell event in a preschool, it is perhaps worth pointing out that rejecting a day of celebrating veterans is not the same thing as creating a day for hating veterans. It is in fact, as proposed here, a means of restoring a day for celebrating peace. Friends of mine in Veterans For Peace have argued for decades that the best way to serve veterans would be to cease creating more of them.
That cause, of ceasing to create more veterans, is impeded by the propaganda of troopism, by the contention that one can and must “support the troops” — which usually means support the wars, but which can conveniently mean nothing at all when any objection is raised to its usual meaning.
What’s needed, of course, is to respect and love everyone, troops or otherwise, but to cease describing participation in mass killing — which endangers us, impoverishes us, destroys the natural environment, erodes our liberties, promotes xenophobia and racism and bigotry, risks nuclear holocaust, and weakens the rule of law — as some kind of “service.” Participation in war should be mourned or regretted, not appreciated.
The largest number of those who “give their lives for their country” today in the United States do so through suicide. The Veterans Administration has said for decades that the single best predictor of suicide is combat guilt. You won’t see that advertised in many Veterans Day parades. But it is something understood by the growing movement to abolish the entire institution of war.
World War I, the Great War (which I take to have been great in approximately the “Make America Great Again” sense), was the last war in which some of the ways people still talk and think about war were actually true. The killing took place largely on battlefields. The dead outnumbered the wounded. The military casualties outnumbered the civilians.
The two sides were not, for the most part, armed by the very same weapons companies. War was legal. And lots of really smart people believed the war lies sincerely and then changed their minds. All of that is gone with the wind, whether we care to admit it or not.
War is now one-sided slaughter, mostly from the air, blatantly illegal, no battlefields in sight — only houses. The wounded outnumber the dead, but no cures have been developed for the mental wounds.
The places where the weapons are made and the places where the wars are waged have little overlap. Many wars have US weapons — and some have US-trained fighters — on multiple sides.
The vast majority of the dead and wounded are civilian, as are the traumatized and those made homeless. And the rhetoric used to promote each war is as worn thin as the 100-year-old claim that war can put an end to war.
Peace can put an end to war, but only if we value and celebrate it.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. His books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio and was a 2015 and 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
Armistice Day, Veterans Day,
And the End of War
John Reuwer, MD / World BEYOND War
(November 10, 2018) — WWI was supposed to be the war to end all wars. At least that was the motivation for countless young men to leave their farms, factories, families, and lovers to climb into rat and lice infested trenches waiting to go over the top into machine gun fire or poison gas.
The horror of 40 million military and civilian dead and maimed, along with the grisly deaths of more than 20 million more people from the Spanish flu spread by the war, led to a great celebration of its end by declaring Armistice Day as an embrace of peace.
When it became obvious that war was not actually a good way to end war, but predictably led to World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, and the nuclear arms race, the United States changed the day to Veterans Day to honor those who fight.
While honoring soldiers who face danger to protect something is laudable, it is not altogether benign. The danger of honoring veterans without honoring peace is that it becomes little more than a recruiting tool to prepare the next generation for war. Is that what we want?
War may have been necessary in the past, but in this age of instantaneous communication, interdependance of economies, and weapons of mass destruction, war is obsolete. If allowed to continue, it can only lead to the destruction of human progress and the planet, at first slowly by draining the resources needed to address serious human problems, and ultimately by mass death and destruction by nuclear holocaust.
This would be particularly tragic because better alternatives are available in the rapidly progressing fields of modern conflict management, peacebuilding strategies, and nonviolent actions with proven records of mitigating agression and political violence.
The best way to honor veterans is to prevent the recurrance of what they had to endure, and embracing positive alternatives
It is time to stop putting guns and other weapons into the hands of youth all over the world, and employ their energy and idealism to work saving our future — rescuing people from fires, earthquakes, floods, and famines, fighting epidemics, cleaning up toxic waste sites, building infrastructure, reforesting the planet, restoring lakes and oceans, and researching solutions to the problem of human violence.
For those who want to directly confront “bad guys” who are harming others, there are exciting new options such as the Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Violence Interrupters. The alternatives to war are there — the choice is ours.
John Reuwer, MD, is an Adjunct Professor of Conflict Resolution at St. Michaels College and a member of the World BEYOND War Coordinating Committee.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Lasting Memories of the End of WWI
BERKELEY, Calif. (November 11, 2018) — Today marks 100 years since the end of WWI, the “Great War,” the “War to End All Wars.” A previously unseen collection of photographs from that day, published in the New York Times, captures the joy and relief of people all over the word at the end of a conflict that killed 17 million people. It seemed unimaginable that an even greater conflagration would sweep the world less than a generation later.
My grandfather Bernard Willander, a first-generation Swedish American, volunteered to serve in the Yankee Division, a Boston-based unit of the Army National Guard, which was sent to France as part of the US Expeditionary Forces.
All these men were raw recruits and many of them perished. The story of how Bennie was taught to drive on a piece of paper while crossing the Atlantic on a troop ship, and thus becoming an ambulance driver serving at some safer distance from the front lines, is family lore.
Every November 11, my mother Joan reminded us of how the armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. She bemoaned the fact that after WWII, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans’ Day and effectively demoted in favor of Memorial Day in the US I imagine that Peter, Thomas and Bertie are wearing red poppies in honor of Remembrance Day, as it is called in England.
The international order that was imposed after WWII under US leadership, through the UN, NATO and other alliances and treaties has prevented another massive conflict like we saw in the 20th Century. Even through the Cold War and the worldwide proxy conflicts between the capitalist and socialist camps, the world managed to avoid all-out war.
Today, with the resurgence of nationalism and the fraying of alliances, a great war is no longer unimaginable. While Emmanuel Macron defines nationalism as the opposite of true patriotism, our president celebrates it and boycotts the commemoration in Paris that he supposedly went to attend.
I am fearful of what is happening in America and the world. Xenophobia, hatred, and racism are all on the rise. Wars and conflicts rooted in inequality and fueled by these tribal instincts as well as the destabilizing effects of global warming are tearing apart countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. Massive numbers of people are fleeing war, poverty, and gang violence. We need peace and stability, not walls and nationalistic demagoguery.
I was in Skibereen, Ireland, last summer, the epicenter of the great famine that killed a million people and forced the emigration of another million. In a museum, I saw newspaper articles about English people in Liverpool calling for the starving Irish refugees, who had arrived by ship, to be turned back.
Today the US Army has been deployed to the southern border to prevent a group of poor, desperate migrants from seeking asylum in the US The president calls them “invaders” and proposes to contravene US law by denying them asylum. The anti-Semite who killed Jews last week in Pittsburg seemed particularly incensed that the synagogue members were assisting these “invaders.”
Today the sun is struggling to burn through the veil of smoke from the Camp Fire north of here. Other than the smoke, it seems like a lovely day. American has managed to avoid the conflicts and devastation that so much of the world has suffered. But the people of Paradise (not to mention Panama Beach and Thousand Oaks) are searching/grieving for missing loved ones, and wondering where they will live. We may not be as immune from dangerous currents as we’ve come to believe.
I hope that today we can all be thankful for the gifts and peace that we do have, and remember those who fought to protect them (and not just in a military sense).
Tonight at my local Hoot song gathering/community I’m going to play a song called “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” It’s about the experience of an Aussie soldier in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915, and one of the most powerful anti-war songs I know. Peace y’all.
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Written and sung by Eric Bogle (1971)
When I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murry’s green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said, “Son,
It’s time you stop rambling, there’s work to be done.”
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they marched me away to the war.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And midst all the cheers, flag waving and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli
It’s well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was ready, he primed himself well.
He rained us with bullets, and showered us with shell,
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us back home to Australia.
And the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As we stopped to bury our slain,
and we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.
those who were living we just tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher.
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, sure I wished I was dead.
I never knew there were worse things than dying.
For I’ll go no more Waltzing Matilda,
All around the green bush far and free
To hunt and to pace, a man needs both legs,
No more waltzing Matilda for me.
They collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they sent us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And when our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.
But the Band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway,
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
Then they turned all their faces away.
So now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving their dreams and past glory,
I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
Those forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda,
And the old men still answer the call,
But year after year, the numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda.
Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts can be heard as they march by the billibong
Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?