Amistice Day vs. Veterans Day

November 2002


Armistice Day has been replaced by Veteran's Day -- why this makes me mad. What is Armistice Day? What does Veteran's Day celebrate and how is that different from Armistice Day?

Every year I get mad at Veteran's Day. I get mad because Veteran's Day bulldozed Armistice Day and almost no one remembers that. Very few people even know what Armistice Day was about. Almost everyone mistakenly assumes that the two days celebrate the same things and the popular press promotes the lie that it was just a name change.

Everyone knows that Veteran's Day is a national day of thanks for the sacrifices veterans have made for the USA. The main assumption is that these sacrifices were prudent, necessary and unavoidable. We tacitly accept that there was no other way to achieve the same goals, except by going to war. War is therefore a legitimate tactic to achieve national aims and the people, on our side, who serve in the military to achieve those objectives should be honored. And besides, the horror, destruction and deaths of millions of human beings is a small price to pay for the freedom and liberty which we lucky Americans hold dear.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for freedom and I believe that there is a lot more good and right with this country than most other countries. However, we have a day to celebrate our freedom and the good things about this country. It is called Independence Day. Veteran's Day does not celebrate our freedom, it celebrates war. Regardless of whether it is true that our nation has been made a better place to live because we won wars, Veteran's Day celebrates and glorifies war as a just and noble human endeavor. This is a debatable point.

OK, so what is different about Armistice Day? In 1921, our government, and the governments of lots of other countries who had participated in The Great War (World War One), got together to proclaim an international day of remembrance and mourning for the dead of World War One. In many parts of the world, November 11th is still celebrated as Remembrance Day, but here in the USA it was called Armistice Day until 1954. It is important to note that it was a day of remembrance for all who died in the war, not just soldiers, but also for the millions of non-combatant dead.

Armistice Day started out as an international observance dedicated to the proposition that World War One was the "war to end all wars." On Armistice Day, we were encouraged to honor the dead by resolving that war should never happen again. It celebrates the idea that there are alternatives to war-- that there are better ways to resolve conflicts and settle disputes between nations than war. I can think of no better way to recognize and remember the many sacrifices people have made in war than to declare that no one should ever witness those horrors again.

If you want to recognize the debt that we owe to the people who served or died to protect our country, then there is certainly nothing wrong in this. Only please, refrain from honoring warriors on Armistice Day, the one day of the year dedicated to the pursuit of peaceful coexistence. I get angry every year because of the lie, implicit in Veteran's Day, that Armistice Day never happened. We have not been celebrating the glorious contribution of war every year since 1921. We have only been commemorating war with a national holiday since 1954. Veteran's Day is diametrically opposed to Armistice Day. It is as if Arbor Day were replaced with Logger Day.

I celebrate Armistice Day. At 11:00 on that day I bow my head and think of all the millions whose lives have been ruined or ended by war. I resolve that I will have no part in war. I promise to fight the lie that the agony of war can make the world a better place. War is hatred made manifest. Nothing good or worthwhile can be truly sustained by murder. War, more than any other human activity, makes property sacred and trivializes the value of human life. Everyone who has ever been in a war agrees that war contains, promotes and is sustained by every evil imaginable. I feel sorry for everyone in war, even the soldiers.

Having a day that celebrates the well meaning sacrifices of people for the good of their country and the world is a good thing, but I think we should celebrate Veteran's Day on some other day of the year than Armistice Day and it should be a national day of apology.

Dear Veterans," we should say, "we are sorry we stole the best years of your youth. We are sorry you had to witness the deaths of so many of your comrades. We apologize that your bodies were torn apart and crippled. We are sorry we forced you to go to foreign lands and kill people you did not know. We are sorry war left you broken in spirit. We did not mean to expose your tender hearts to the brutality of dead children. Oh, dear compassionate veterans, we do not know how we can possibly cure all the pain and desperate agony we caused you, but we hope you can, in your hearts, forgive us our madness."

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