Veteran’s Day: a time to reflect on a sad aspect of our history. Let’s learn, to build a better future.

Summary: The evolution of the Armistice Day into Veteran’s Day mirrors the evolution of America into an increasingly militaristic State. Let’s use today as a time to reflect on this change, and on the long series of mostly futile wars that has accompanied it.

Veterans Day

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A powerful thought for us on Veteran’s Day from One Hour’s Stour, posted at Unqualified Offerings, 11 November 2009:

Wikipedia has the short, sad story of how Armistice Day – a holiday “dedicated to the cause of world peace” – became, as of 1954, a day honoring the military as such.

I regret the change. The US already had Memorial Day for military members killed in action, and Armed Forces Day began in 1950. A third military-focused holiday would already be overkill even if it wasn’t a perversion of the original meaning of November 11 remembrances.

As John Quiggin reminds us today, November 11 marks the blessed if temporary end to one of the great calamities – crimes – visited on people by their leaders, and by people on each other. It is meant to be a day dedicated to hating the waste and sin of war.

While the impulse behind Veteran’s Day seems “grass roots” enough, it depended on the assent of the powerful to enact it.You can see why the government would have embraced a chance to change that holiday’s focus. As for me, I’ll exercise my personal veto. Happy Armistice Day.

That passage gives the essential point about Veteran’s Day. It evolved from a celebration of peace and the end of a mad war, to another flag-waving celebration of war. This matches the evolution of America from a self-absorbed nation, devoted to commerce, to a militaristic imperial State.

Veteran’s Day offers a second lesson to us: that not all wars are WW2, great wars against evil bringing forth a new and better world. Most of our wars have been more closely resembled WW1 — with some combination of …

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  • fought for delusional reasons,
  • Americans’ excitement about the war aroused by propaganda,
  • inconclusive or even inimical results for America and the world,
  • from which we learned nothing.

Despite our glorification of war and the military, large wars (State to State violence) have seldom worked well for America. The slaughter of the Civil War ended slavery, but slavery ended without such war almost everywhere else — and without America’s century-long stain of Jim Crow (state-sanctioned terrorism against Blacks). WW1 was followed by our failure to join the League of Nations that we advocated — and then the madness of the Versailles Treaty, the Great Depression, Hitler, and WW2. We botched the Korean War on every level.

And last, the serial failures — repeated mistakes — of the 4GWs in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Note the downward spiral. Bin Laden’s massive success on 9-11 lured America into a great mistake. Now our ruling elites — and of course our government — see the world as a battlefield. Including the “Homeland”. We have turned onto a dark road, which almost certainly requires the end of the Second Republic, the America-that-once-war, and will lead to a bad end for us.

Every holiday is a moment for reflection on our past, present, and future. We can learn from our past, make resolutions today, and build a better future. It can begin on this Veteran’s Day.  Learning and resolving to do better are the greatest reward we can give to their sacrifices.

Liberty cries
Honor her and Vets by learning

For More Information

Historical notes on holidays:

  1. On this important date let’s remember the past and look forward to our future, 2 March 2013 — The Articles of Confederation ratified
  2. A thought for and about Memorial Day, 28 May 2012
  3. How can we better honor our vets on Memorial Day?, 27 May 2013
  4. What we should Americans do on the 4th of July?, 4 July 2010
  5. Advice from the past about ways to celebrate Independence Day, 4 July 2013
  6. On this Labor Day, let’s remember what unions have done for America,2 September 2013
  7. The pilgrimage of Martin Luther King: an antidote to our amnesia about America’s history, 14 September 2013
  8. Looking back on USMC thanksgivings, reminding us of things for which we should be grateful, 24 November 2011
  9. Let’s give thanks for America’s luck, and try to deserve it!, 22 November 2012
  10. I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Marines in WWII, 25 December 2011
  11. Good news for Christmas, 25 December 2012

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9 thoughts on “Veteran’s Day: a time to reflect on a sad aspect of our history. Let’s learn, to build a better future.

  1. I have no personal ties to anyone in the military. No one in my immediate or extended family is in the military. Us Mataga’s seem to end up as either scientists or huckers — maybe I’m a bit of both myself, really. The thing is I can be an irritating loudmouth about this war issue. Really, I’ve just had it, and I let people know which can cause some friction. I tell my friends — keep your kids out of war, lie, send them overseas, do whatever you can.

    You know what I love — that scene near the end of the Sopranos where the son is studying Arabic and is thinking he’s going to join the military. He has all kinds of weird fantasies about his future life. The young men, they’re drawn to this — it’s like a weird magical spell comes over them and they want to fight. I don’t blame them, I don’t think they can’t help it — it’s not just video games or media, it’s just how they are. But, how do they deal with this? It’s the perfect ending for AJ — they find him a bull-shit movie business job working on crappy films. They lure them away, cleverly.

  2. One of the things which I find the most disgraceful, disturbing, and disgusting about all the lofty “support the troops” rhetoric in this country and the growing tendency to pursue military action at the drop of a hat is the positively shabby and atrociously hypocritical way we actually treat our veterans and our people in uniform — or more specifically, the rank-and-file who are the ones most often putting their lives on the line and who come back physically and emotionally damaged.

    Actions speak far louder than words…and based on the way that this country treats the people who’ve been sent to fight and die in its wars (especially as these wars have become less about defense and more about corporate profiteering), it’s only too clear that our government does not consider the troops to have any real value or importance at all except as cannonfodder or sheep to be slaughtered as a sacrifice to a god of war who as yet is not being openly acknowledged. The evangelical Christians really should stop kidding themselves…no matter what we might choose to believe or who we think we’re praying to, the god whose support this country claims to have is no longer the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible but is actually much more likely to be Mammon or Mars (or some amalgamation of the two). Anyone who doesn’t understand what I mean or how this idea works might want to read the last few chapters of C.S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle”, since I’ve yet to find a better illustration of this idea anywhere else.

    The manner in which we treat veterans and people in uniform has been getting worse ever since we made the transition to an all-volunteer force, but it seems to have grown much worse over the past decade or so — and it’s actually not all that hard to imagine what one of the reasons probably is. The all-volunteer force overwhelmingly comes from rural and/or low-income areas where opportunities for decent employment and/or further education tend to be very thin on the ground for young people — and it’s hardly a secret that many people in our government hold this group of people in contempt already, even though in most cases their only sin was being born to a deprived family or in a deprived area. The ways in which the people in our government have demonstrated their secret disdain for the people who have fought/are fighting in their wars — while at the same time outwardly praising them largely as an exercise in propaganda and as a means of drumming up votes — are positively legion. Here’s just a tiny sample drawn from some of the most glaring examples:

    * Repeated cuts to the budget for the Veterans’ Administration.

    * Repeated deployments, with some combat veterans being sent back as many as three or more times. (According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, as many as fifty thousand of those currently in uniform have served four or more tours of duty in combat.)

    * Families of people in uniform being compelled to apply for food stamps (by the way, this was happening before the Great Recession).

    * A distressingly high percentage of veterans among the homeless population (some reports indicate that as many as one out of every four homeless people is a veteran)

    * Returning combat veterans housed in substandard conditions (remember the Walter Reade scandal? The story was reported in Salon over a year before it finally broke nationally.)

    * The cover-up of sexual assaults against women in uniform perpetrated by their male comrades-in-arms.

    Really, is it any wonder that the rates of suicide and other demonstrations of psychological distress (including severely dysfunctional manifestations such as chemical abuse and domestic violence) are increasing among veterans and people in uniform to near-epidemic proportions? Speaking as someone whose grandfathers both served in WWII (European and Pacific front) and who has other relatives that have been career military, I’m personally somewhat sickened by all the pseudo-pious rhetoric that this country tends to spout on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day to soothe our public conscience for another six months. Enough with the talk…when are we going to actually DO something meaningful for the veterans and people in uniform??? (Don;t bother answering…it’s a rhetorical question, and I know the answer as well as anyone.)

  3. To my parents, November 11th remained Armistice Day. Two minutes of silence at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month stood in remembrance of the horrors of war, the soldiers and civilians worldwide who fell in its wake, and the will that it would never happen again.

    It was a day of remembrance throughout the world, not a national holiday; but the will that war should never happen again has failed too many times. Today we celebrate the conduct of war, not the end of it; we lust for victory rather than long for peace.

    Let’s go back to the beginning of Veterans Day. It used to be Armistice Day, because at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I came to an end.

    We must not forget that conflict. It revealed the essence of war, of all wars, because however “just” or “humanitarian” may be the claims, at the irreducible core of all war is the slaughter of the innocent, organized by national leaders, accompanied by lies.

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    Our decent impulse, to recognize the ordeal of our veterans, has been used to obscure the fact that they died, they were crippled, for no good cause other than the power and profit of a few.

    A Veteran Remembers, Howard Zinn, 11/12/2006

  4. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of veterans…

    Was anyone else aware of the fact that last year, the Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 (which made it a federal misdemeanor for someone to misrepresent themselves as the recipient of military honors or medals for the purpose of personal gain) on the grounds that this represented an infringement of the First Amendment freedom of speech…even though false claims of this magnitude for the purposes of exploitation would probably be prosecuted as criminal fraud? I only learned of this today.

    I mean, seriously…this was a real slap in the face to all the veterans who have genuinely earned those accolades.

    1. I believe a revised version of this law was signed by the President this year. It tightened the language to speak to the perpetrators intentions of gaining money, property or other tangible benefit by connvincing someone of the falsehood.

    2. The Stolen Valor Act was borderline unconstitutional, and unnecessary. People who fake military service for financial gain can already be punished for fraud. The Stolen Valor Act was an empty exercise in patriotic chest-thumping.

  5. Non-stop wars have led to paranoia in American society. Other nations are noticing it. Der Spiegel has an article: “Paradise Lost: Paranoia Has Undermined US Democracy” in its latest issue, and I think they’re right.

    The United States is a relatively young country that began as a society of settlers. They came to America to escape oppression at the hands of European monarchies, and they developed a strong desire for freedom in the process — a freedom they could find in the continent’s vast expanses. As political individuals, they refused to accept that even though they lived on the other side of the Atlantic, they were still controlled by the British colonial power, and they fought for their independence and democracy.

    Because the settlers made such great sacrifices to seize their magnificent country — from British troops, from the Indians and from the wilderness — their achievements became imbued with a religious exaggeration. The country was essentially declared a paradise, or, in the words of the national anthem, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

    But the nation’s genetic code has also retained the fear that many settlers had to endure, both on their treks and in wars. A covered wagon with a man, a woman and a horde of children — it’s the perfect symbol of the land of unlimited opportunity, a land where total freedom and maximum vulnerability go hand-in-hand.

    The article gets it wrong, however, by implying that this kind of hysterical non-stop fear is typical of American history. In my childhood, Americans weren’t driven by this kind of hysterical panic. A person could leave a packpack on a park bench without the entire city getting shut down. You could mail a large package in a post box without having to check it at the post office counter (for fear of bombs). People didn’t have to take off their shoes or surrender bottles of shampoo at the airport.

    And the reality remains that incidents involving mail bombs or shoe bombs or other far-fetched threats occur remarkably infrequently. The Unabomber was one guy and he got caught. There haven’t been other Unabombers since. The Shoe Bomber was one guy and there haven’t been any shoe bombers trying to get on airplanes since. The Okalhoma city bombing was a unique one-time event, and hasn’t been repeated since. The reality? America is really remarkably safe, and in fact violent crime has plummeted over the past 60 years. But you’d never know it from our paranoia crazed-with-fear TV shows and movies, which depict terrorists blowing up jet planes every other day (The TV show Homeland and the TV series The Blacklist and 24) and filling entire cities with poison gas (Batman Begins) and slaughtering hundreds of police (Batman: The Dark Knight). These are all wild fantasies with no connection to reality.

    See the excellent article “Most Americans Believe Crime in U.S. Is Worsening,” Gallup Polls website, 31 October 2011:

    Despite a sharp decline in the United States’ violent crime rate since the mid-1990s, the majority of Americans continue to believe the nation’s crime problem is getting worse, as they have for most of the past decade. Currently, 68% say there is more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago, 17% say less, and 8% volunteer that crime is unchanged.

    The graph of violent crime in America since 1973 is striking. Violent crime in this country has absolutely collapsed, way way down to roughly a third of its rate in 1973, from 47.7 persons per thousand (age 12 or over) victim of a violent frim in 1973 to 15 persons per thousand in 2011. Yet Americans have become far more paranoid and hysterically terrified over the last 40 years. It’s a real puzzle.

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