COLUMN by Pat Hynes

November 11 — at the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”— marks 105 years since the World War 1 Armistice, which ended the nightmare of the deadliest war in history until then.
The brutality of that first industrial war robbed 20 million soldiers and civilians of life and wounded another 20 million.

In 1926, the U.S. Congress declared Nov. 11 as Armistice Day: a legal holiday ”to commemorate with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” Subsequently, President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation “inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Armistice Day
embodied a resolve for world peace.

All public ideals of peace with all other peoples were discarded on June 1, 1954, when the U.S. government renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day. This erasure of Armistice Day tragically matched our country’s history of militarism after World War II: first bombing North Korea nearly out of existence and metastasizing into a pathological military-industrial-government complex that claims the lion’s share of our discretionary federal taxes and steals from our government’s social investments in health, education, housing and welfare.

Former Marine Corps officer Camillo Mac Bica interprets the rebranding of Armistice Day to Veterans Day as enabling militarists and war profiteers “to celebrate and promote militarism … misrepresent war members of the military as heroes, and encourage the enlistment of cannon fodder for future war for profit.” Many thousands of soldiers and veterans of major U.S. wars of
the 20th and 21st centuries, including Mac Bica, have turned against war and revived the intent of Armistice Day: “friendly relations with all other peoples.”

Veterans For Peace was founded in 1985 by 10 U.S. veterans in response to the global nuclear arms race and U.S. military interventions in Central America.

In their words, it “is an organization of former soldiers and allies who know too well the costs of war — the obvious, visible wounds; the unseen wounds that curse us and our families for generations and the cost to society of maintaining a military larger than the next ten nations combined. Bitter experience taught us that war is insanity and suffering.”

Imagine (in the spirit of John Lennon) if every school celebrated at least one day of peace- making for all fifth graders on International Peace Day on Sept. 21, as does the Maine Endwell School District with partners Veterans for Peace and the local historical society. The day is replete with music, with children playing instruments and making posters, a magician and beekeepers — all with themes of peace, and interviews with children regarding what peace means to them.

Veterans for Peace’s position on the current war in Ukraine embodies their lived ideals: “It is time to drop the weapons and embrace diplomacy and peace. For the people of Ukraine, the people of Russia, the people of Europe, the United States and China. For the children, for the civilians, for the soldiers, for all living things: We demand Diplomacy, Not War. We demand Peace in Ukraine.”

I am reminded, as I write this piece, of Erich Maria Remarque, who enlisted at age 19 in the World War I German army. Some 10 years after the war’s end, he published his first (and what some consider the greatest) anti-war novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Remarque’s 19- year-old soldier protagonist acutely observes the corrupt dynamics of war: “I see how peoples are set against each other … foolishly, innocently, obediently slaying each other … While they [the promoters and boosters] continued to talk and write, we saw the wounded and dying … The wrong people do the fighting.”

In perhaps the most incisive moment of Remarque’s novel, a young German soldier gazes upon a young French soldier he has killed and ponders their common humanity, with words that undercut the war’s hard-bitten hatred and national chauvinism. “Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony.”

Undoubtedly, the voices of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and veterans turned war resisters will emerge in time in bitter protest against that war.

We remember soldiers who have died in U.S. wars on Memorial Day and soldiers who have served in the U.S. military, especially those maimed, injured and broken by the moral injury of war, on Veterans Day.

Why not, then, restore Armistice Day with its resolve for friendly relations with all other peoples for the sake of world peace, if we are to survive?

Join us on Saturday, Nov. 11 from 11 a.m. to noon on Greenfield Common to honor Armistice Day.

Pat Hynes, a board member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and Weapons into Windmills, is a retired professor of environmental health from Boston University. She has published and spoken widely on feminism, environmental justice, and militarism and peace and is a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.