At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice went into effect, ending The Great War between the Allied Powers (predominantly Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States) and the Central Powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria).
In 1926, the United States Congress called upon the nation to mark, each Nov. 11, “the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed ...” In other words, Armistice Day was created mainly as a day to celebrate the peace and hope that it would last.
It didn’t. “The war to end all wars” would turn out to be just a prelude to World War II — the biggest, most destructive war in human history — and to the many regional wars that have followed it.
In 1954, in the wake of World War II and Korea, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, in honor of American veterans of all wars. In 1968, the observance was moved to a Monday, but a few states refused to follow suit, causing confusion. In 1978, it was moved back to Nov. 11, where it remains to this day. (If it falls on a Saturday, the federal government observes it on Friday; and if on a Sunday, on Monday; but this year it happens to fall on a Monday.)
Back in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson had proposed his idealistic Fourteen Points, including the creation of a League of Nations to oversee the resolution of the disputes that had led to the war, and to build a lasting peace. Sadly, Wilson’s allies instead demanded draconian punishments and war reparations from Germany — conditions that would contribute greatly to the rise of the Nazis — and his own country rejected the League.
The Department of Veterans Affairs notes that there is sometimes confusion between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Veterans Day honors veterans of all wars in which the U.S. has fought. Memorial Day, which originally honored those killed in the Civil War, is now a day when the American dead of all wars are remembered.
The American Legion reminds us that Veterans Day is a time to honor all of the men and women who have served in our armed forces: “Not all veterans have seen war, but a common bond that they share is an oath in which they expressed their willingness to die defending this nation.”
The VFW points out that we now lose more veterans to suicide at home than we lose on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and calls on the nation — not just Congress and the VA, but individual Americans as well — to do more to help veterans overcome their injuries, both physical and mental, when they come home.
Parades and speeches are fine, but that would be a way of truly honoring the vets.