Holidays 4: Reclaiming Armistice (Veterans) Day

At 11:00 am on the 11th of November, 1918, at Compiègne, France, the Allies and Germany signed an agreement ending what was then called the Great War and, sadly, was subsequently relegated to “World War I.” One year, later, on November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued this proclamation initiating Armistice Day in the United States:

“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…”

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially declared a name change for this holiday, from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.”

This decision by Eisenhower–ostensibly to recognize that November 11, 1918, did not mark the end of armed world conflict (alas, there was a Second World War), and was thereby outmoded as a reason for a national holiday–nevertheless ended up severing the “heroism of those who died in the country’s service” from a recognition of their service to free us from conflict and bloodshed and “the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

In an odd way, it’s like separating the right to bear arms, enshrined in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, from the need for “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” In both cases, we have made military service and the possession of firearms ends in and of themselves, rather than sadly or unfortunately necessary means to procure safety, so that then, having laid down those arms, we are empowered to promote freedom, peace, and justice–at home, and among “the councils of the nations.”

This is, or can be, a holy day each year for us do something of crucial importance: to focus our attention, even if for but 24 hours out of the year, in working to ensure that the only reasons for armed conflict (big or small) is to free people to pursue peace and justice in this world. It is for us to aspire to Isaiah’s prophecy of a time when nations–beginning with ours–shall beat our swords into plowshares and our swords into pruninghooks, not lifting up swords against other nations nor learning war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)


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