War Is A Lie: Veterans Day

This is another installment of the occasional series, War Is A Lie. Please see the first installment here. Please see the second installment here.

armistice-poster.jpgNovember 11th is Veterans Day in the United States. It is a national holiday, and ceremonial recognition of veterans take place across the country. Frequently in sporting events, the military is honored, with fly overs, flag displays and honored seating for soldiers in uniform. Patriotic songs are sung, and television screens across the nation show tributes to military personal coming home from war to see their long awaiting children, spouses or dogs.

Here is a short explanation of Veterans Day from the History Channel. It is a good example of how the History Channel gives limited explanation and almost no real understanding of the day known as Veterans Day.

As the video describes, the tradition of Veterans Day was born out of the end on the First World War. The video describes the public reaction to the War as the impetus for a day remembering those who fought.

Veterans Day is on November 11th every year, signifying the end of World War One, which ended with an Armistice that started on the “eleventh month, on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour.”

One year after the Armistice was signed, President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to observe one minute of silence for the war dead, a tradition of remembrance that caught on with European nations as well. He said,

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us, and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Wilson wanted the silence to celebrate the brave men who died fighting in a war that had no victors and was completely unnecessary. The moment of silence might have better been used to remember what was lost in a futile war for the bravado of nations.

World War One claimed twenty million lives. It was, until the Second World War, the deadliest war in human history. By far. Celebrating the sacrifice is an ironic and bittersweet memorial to what was lost when nothing was gained.

In Europe, the eleventh day of November is marked with the wearing of paper poppy flowers. The poppy flower was memorialized in the great poem, In Flanders Field. It reads as follows,

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In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1872 – 1918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poem appears to be a war poem, celebrating and honoring those who died. Upon closer consideration, however, the final stanza reveals a different interpretation for us.

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The “if, then” format of this final stanza presents a question for the reader about the honor of continuing the tradition of war. To continue to “take up the quarrel with the foe” would imply to continue the war tradition. But if we, the readers, lean from the dead, the ghostly narrator of the poem, then we might consider what happens if we “break faith with us who die.” If we break with the tradition of mindless warfare and senseless loss of lives, then the dead shall not sleep in Flanders field.

If we stop war, the poem says, then we will not have to remember those who died needlessly in wars .

The message of War Remembrance Day, symbolized by the poppy worn in Europe, is to remember that we have a choice when it comes to the tradition of war. We can choose to march off, carrying high the torch of previous generations who fought and died, or we can end the pointless loss of life, and the dead will not be fertilizer for the poppies that grow in the battlefields of those wars.

The tradition in Europe was known as War Remembrance Day, which has a different connotation than Veterans Day.

20c47e6546ac9fc2061adf530a19c504The Europeans lost an entire generation to World War One. Ten million soldiers died fighting in Flanders Fields, the Argonne Forest, and the Somme. To the Europeans, the reaction was not to honor the dead by saluting them every November 11th.

The reaction was to reject war as a solution to the conflicts of nations. War Remembrance Day calls upon us to remember the ignorance of war, and the pointless loss of life that now pushes up poppies from Flanders Field.

In the United States, by contrast, Veterans Day does not ask us to remember that war is a mistake. Instead it is another day to celebrate war and the warrior class. It is another celebration of violence and industrialized killing, wrapped in a flag and serenaded with patriotic songs.

It is another opportunity to announce to critics of war that they can “love it or leave it”, as if that binary option was the premise upon which the United States was built.

This begs the question why there exists this contradictory lesson every November 11th. The answer may lie in the reality that the Europeans experienced, watching their towns, villages, cities and hamlets, become emptied of young men. It may be that then United States has not seen war ravage it’s population, leaving broken, burned and crippled boys come home to beg for help. America has not lost it’s innocence when it comes to war.

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It is not to say that a nation need experience the horrors of war in order to learn the lesson of war. The United States is not an ignorant nation, but a great one. As a great nation it has within itself the capacity to learn from history. The United States does not need to lose an entire generation to war in order to see that war is always a mistake.

Perhaps this lesson is already starting to blossom in the minds of the millennium generation. They grew up after 9-11, watching the United States march off in just war formation to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. These new adults have seen the failure of the United States in both these wars, and watched as the veterans that return from these battlefields suffer from high rates of PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment and suicide.

The lesson of Flanders Field has been passed to the new generation by the example of the previous generation which failed to learn the lesson of World War One.

This year, let’s continue the tradition of War Remembrance Day, so that we might never again see the folly of sending millions to die, simply because of a tradition of militarism that we never learned was, and always has been, a terrible mistake.


Author: historydojo

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher with nearly twenty years of experience teaching high school history. I blog about teaching, history, current events, the law and social justice.

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