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Veterans Day Is Not A Celebration of War, But a Caution Against It

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Veterans Day is one of two American holidays that has never been moved to a Monday to accommodate a long weekend, the other one is the Fourth of July Independence Day celebration.
Veterans Day remains on November 11 because it grew out of the commemoration of the Armistice ending World War I – the war to end all wars – that came into effect at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918.
The bloody stalemate in the trenches of the Western Front scared a generation of soldiers who served there, especially in Europe where millions died in futile battles for a few yards of “no man’s land” directed by generals who had no concept of the effects of modern weapons and little regard for the lives of those whom they commanded.
America was slow to enter the war and did so after many provocations by Germany and only after a congressional debate lasting four days that saw leading figures of both major political parties come out against war.
While the exploits of Americans on the Western Front, such as the Battles of Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood and the exploits of the Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest have remained in the American military lexicon and live on in the names of ships and battles studied at the military academies and war colleges the fact that Americans were at best reluctant participants in World War I has been strangely redacted from popular culture.
Yet, when World War I was fresh in the public mind the emphasis was not on celebrating war and the martial spirit – it was on remembering the cost of war and the dead it left.
The two best movies about World War I; “Sargent York” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” are hardly jingoistic calls to war.
Both have strongly pacifist themes, although the leading character of Sargent York, the real life Alvin York, eventually chose to set aside his strict pacifism and become a reluctant and humble hero of the American Army in Europe.
And this pacifistic spirit was not limited to popular culture; it remained an important part of American political culture as well.
The original Resolution establishing Armistice Day passed by Congress in 1926, eight years after the end of the war, has this to say about its purposes:

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…
The Resolution goes on to direct the President to issue an annual proclamation “inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
Of course that aspiration for peace was soon lost in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and horrors of Nazism revealed by World War II, and the Korean War, Vietnam, the Middle East and the many other wars and military actions that have occurred since 1926 have left America and Americans in a nearly perpetual state of war.
This year as we recognize our veterans on Veterans Day let us take a look back at the original purposes Americans had in establishing a day commemorating veterans and remind ourselves that it was not war, but its cost, that was being commemorated.

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