While the nation officially observes Veterans Day today, there is a growing movement to reclaim November 11 as Armistice Day, a day to celebrate peace, not militarism.
Veterans For Peace, a national organization of veterans who have experienced the horrors of war, has been the leading voice to remind people of the origin of the day. Veterans For Peace chapters across the country, including Madison and Milwaukee, are hosting events to expose the true costs of war and ask people to imagine a war-free world.
Kathy Kelly, a Chicago activist who has spent her lifetime working for peace, is a featured speaker in both programs. She has witnessed firsthand the suffering and death war brings to innocent civilians, having been in Iraq during the U.S. “shock and awe” bombings, and in Afghanistan, living and working alongside Afghan peace volunteers in Kabul. Kelly, who has been in both countries dozens of times during the last 20 years of endless wars, challenges her audiences to “imagine a world without war.”
November 11 marked the end of hostilities in World War I, “the war to end all wars.” Millions of people around the world were in the streets, ecstatically celebrating peace.
President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as Armistice Day the next year, and in 1926 Congress passed a resolution declaring “this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” It became a national holiday in 1938.
But in 1954, with pressure from veterans organizations after World War II, it became Veterans Day, and the message of peace fell by the wayside. It has become more a day to celebrate militarism, where every veteran is a “warrior” and a “hero,” although most would say they are neither and many are still paying a steep physical or psychic cost for their service.
It is, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs website says, “A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” You might ask what the common good was in the last 20 years of war, but that might suggest you are not patriotic or don’t love your country,
In many cities, including Milwaukee, Veterans For Peace has been banned from the Veterans Day parades, although they are billed as honoring all veterans. It appears that only veterans for war – which encompasses many of the traditional veterans organizations – are welcome and honored.
Those who learned from their time in the military that war truly is hell, and are working to prevent others from having the same experience, will not be celebrating today, but more likely will be quietly reflecting on their service, what it cost them and friends they lost.
And some of us will be celebrating Armistice Day.
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To join the Veterans for Peace event in Madison, which is virtual check out the event website.