This Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day.
It’s a day we’ve set aside for honoring military veterans from all of our United States Armed Forces, and the sacrifices they’ve made for the benefit of our nation and her people. But it’s important to remember the holidays roots to truly appreciate what it is our veterans are working for.
While it’s sometimes confused with Memorial Day, which is a distinct holiday for honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation, Veterans Day isn’t just about honoring our war dead. It’s about honoring the work of all our veterans.
It has its roots, however, not in celebrating our warriors, but in celebrating the return of peace, something every service member, past and present, will tell you they are and were working toward every day.
The November 11 date has significance because it was on November 11, of 1918 – the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month – that the armistice between Germany and the Allied forces went into effect, essentially ending World War I.
Today, more than 100 years after its end, it’s hard to imagine the impact that war had on the United States and the world. It’s impact was not insignificant though. In addition to establishing the United States as a major player on the world stage for the next century, it was a transitional time for warfare – in terms of strategy and weaponry. The prodigious use of gas-based chemical weapons, for instance, directly led to restrictions on their use that most of the countries of our world still agree to today.
While with hindsight we can draw a straight line from the terms of the surrender to the next World War, at the time it was truly and sincerely hoped this would be the “War to End All War,” and the demolition of the Germany military machine was seen as key to that goal.
After four years, and more than 14 million dead – including approximately five million civilian deaths related directly or indirectly to the conflict – the whole world was ready to celebrate an end to conflict. They were ready to celebrate peace.
So, Armistice Day was established and celebrated in a number of Allied nations, including France, where it’s still celebrated today, and the United States.
It would stay Armistice Day in the U.S. until 1954 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill into law that established an Armistice Day celebration for all veterans – not just those veterans of WWI – and which was later amended to change the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
It’s been known as Veterans Day ever since, at least here in the U.S.
Over the intervening years some, including famed novelist and WWII veteran Kurt Vonnegut, have advocated for a return to the celebration of Armistice Day. Celebrating Armistice Day, they argue, would allow us to focus and reflect upon how to achieve peace.
This is a valid point.
But we sincerely believe if you ask almost any veteran – particularly those who served in time of war – what it was they most strongly desired, they’d tell you it’s an end to hostilities and the return of peace. They know better than any the tragic costs of war, for everyone involved.
So many of them serve, in hopes their children and grandchildren won’t have to. They’ve made sacrifices, willingly, so others won’t have to.
For that, they deserve our recognition, no matter what you call the day.
For that, they have our thanks and eternal gratitude.
Happy Veterans Day, and thank you to all who have served.
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