Exactly at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 100 years ago, people across Europe suddenly stopped shooting guns at each other. They stopped on schedule. Both before and after 11:00 o’clock these men were simply following orders.
The armistice agreement that ended World War l had set 11:00 o’clock as quitting time. This allowed 11,000 more men to be killed in the six hours between the agreement and the appointed hour.
In the subsequent years, that hour—that moment of ending a war that was supposed to end all war, became a time of silence, of bell ringing, of remembering the horror of war, and to dedicate oneself to actually ending all war and to seek enduring peace with all nations. That is what Armistice Day was, it wasn’t a celebration of war or those who participated in war, but of a moment a war had ended.
Congress passed an Armistice Day resolution in 1926, and later Congress added that November 11th was to be a day dedicated to world peace. Armistice Day as a day to oppose war, had lasted in the United States up until the 1950s.
It was only after the U.S. had nuked Japan, destroyed Korea, begun a cold war, created the CIA, and created a permanent industrial military complex with hundreds of bases scattered around the world, that the U.S. government renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day on June 1, 1954.
Today, Veterans Day for most people is a day not to cheer the end of war or even its complete eradication. Veterans Day parades in many cities and towns praise war and the participation in war Farmer poet, Wendell Berry writes: “I will be steadfastly hopeful, for as a member of the human race I am also in the company of men, though comparatively few, who through all the sad destructive centuries of our history have kept alive the vision of peace and kindness and generosity and humility and freedom...I wish to be a spokesman of the belief that the human intelligence that could invent the apocalyptic weapons of modern war could invent as well the means of peace.”
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