The Real Meaning of Veterans Day
Honor the warriors, not the wars.
November 11, Veterans Day, is a day to honor all who have served in the US armed forces, whether in wartime or peacetime, at home or abroad. Veterans who wore the uniform in service of their country deserve that recognition.
But somehow the day has become more a celebration and display of militarism than a day to celebrate veterans.
That is especially unfortunate and ironic because the date was first observed as Armistice Day, a day to celebrate the end of World War I and promote world peace.
World War I, the “war to end all wars” ended on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Thirty-eight million, combatants and civilians, had been killed or wounded. The world was horrified by the carnage.
In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day, and in the years since it has morphed into a flag-waving display of patriotism that often seems to honor the military and war as much as it does those who served.
We don’t talk about veterans in these days of endless war; we call them warriors, as though every veteran were exposed to combat. But only a small percentage of our veterans have actually experienced combat. Even those deployed to a war zone are more likely to end up in supporting roles, not in battle.
That is not to take away anything from anyone who served. In fact, every man or woman who takes the oath and puts on a uniform is exposed to the potential that they will be asked to risk their life. Once they enlist, who gets what job or orders to deploy is beyond their control.
Vietnam Veterans Against the War has long had a slogan, “Honor the warrior, not the war.”
That is exactly what Veterans Day should do. It is not at all incompatible to honor veterans while promoting peace and an end to war as an instrument of foreign policy.
That is what Veterans for Peace has done since 1985, honoring veterans while educating the public about the true costs of war. Ironically, the organizers of Milwaukee’s Veterans Day parade have refused to allow the local Veterans for Peace chapter to take part in the parade. In Milwaukee, there is no place for peace on Veterans Day.
Veterans for Peace will observe Armistice Day with a program in the City Hall rotunda at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11. The public is welcome.
Bill Christofferson is a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam and a member of Milwaukee Chapter 102 of Veterans for Peace.