What we now celebrate as Veterans’ Day used to be called Armistice Day. WWI ended at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, almost 100 years ago. Shortly after the war ended, the day was declared a holiday. This certainly made sense because at the time we thought the war had been fought to make the world “safe for democracy.” It was the war that would end future wars. Out of the massive bloodshed and disruption of WWI it was felt that civilization – at least western civilization – had seen the light. We would be smarter than to end up in that sort of mess again. Armies and Navies would hardly be needed and, indeed, we believed that. Our military shrank hugely after the war.
The optimism of 1918 turned out to be woefully misplaced and the following century has had almost constant conflict all over the world. Tens of millions of lives have been lost and countless more have been displaced and disrupted. The “War to End All Wars” seems delusional when viewed through the prism of the last century. Celebrating on this day seems, at best, ironic.
Or maybe not.
If there is one lesson we can draw from the last 99 years is that we need those men and women who are willing to serve. Without the sacrifice of millions of those who answered the call to service – including hundreds of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice – we would not have the free society we now enjoy. We have the luxury to be offended by “micro-aggression.” Those who live under dictatorships or police states wish that all they had to worry about was handling such offense. Throughout the last century we have faced off against the forces of tyranny and we have prevailed. Those victories, however, have only happened because of those willing to serve and put their lives on the line, our veterans.
Ours is not a perfect society and right now we are torn with dissent. Often it is a pretty sad spectacle. One thing we should all be able to agree on, however, is honoring our veterans. This means more than a kneejerk “thank you for your service.” Stop a minute and think about the huge sacrifices that have been made for us. In truth, we can’t thank our veterans enough, especially those who have served in wartime, but let’s try.