In the wake of the latest escalation of the U.S. military operations in the Middle East, it’s time to remember the origin of Veterans Day. In 1926, the U.S. Congress officially recognized the commemoration of Armistice Day on November 11 with the exhortation, “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.” Armistice Day commemorated the day when World War I hostilities ceased, and had been celebrated informally since 1919 as a day to work for peace.
President Obama doubled the number of U.S. troops in Iraq fighting ISIS a few days ago, immediately after the election. With a foreign policy based on undeclared wars and with coffers drained by military expenditures, Americans need to raise our voices. Every hour, U.S. taxpayers pay $312, 500 for the war against ISIS. We need to remember the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell speech in 1961: “Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
Veterans for Peace lead the way in sponsoring peace events for Veterans Day this year. In Boston, for example, the Veterans Day Peace Parade will culminate in a peace event at historic Faneuil Hall. In Louisville, Kentucky, veteran Peter Berres wrote a prominent opinion piece in the city’s major newspaper, the Courier-Journal. In Raleigh, North Carolina, veterans installed a Swords to Plowshares bell tower on the state capitol grounds for the several days leading up to Veterans Day.
Other organizations, as well, will call people back to the original purpose of Veterans Day. Church bells across the country will ring for peace at 11 AM on Veterans Day. The Harvard Center for Middle East Studies will sponsor a talk by Reese Erlich on the problems with the U.S. military approach to ISIS. In the U.K., London veterans marched for peace under the banner “Never Again,” carrying a wreath of white poppies to commemorate civilians killed in war.
What is your part? In the midst of the U.S. policy of endless war, what are you called to do? Whether you join a peace march, write a letter to the editor, sign a petition, or quietly talk to your friends, you are making a contribution. If each of us discerns our part and takes the next step, our contributions can combine to achieve more than we imagine. On this Veterans Day, let us reclaim the holiday and work for peace in this war-ravaged world.