One hundred years ago, in a railcar in a forest in France, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, November 11, 1918, the armistice that ended hostilities of the first World War was signed. The war officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice (emphasis added) in the councils of the nations. …"
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, that also recognized Armistice Day with these words: “… Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace (emphasis added) through good will and mutual understanding between nations; …” By this time the legislatures of 27 states had already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday.
It wasn’t until 12 years later that an act of Congress on May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday “… a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace (emphasis added) and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day."
In 1954, the 83rd Congress with Public Law 380 amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." Later that same year, on October 8, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation, which began with these words: “Whereas it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace (emphasis added). …”
Fourteen years later, “The Uniform Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production.” Most states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holiday on its original date. After much confusion, on September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11.
It is a very interesting historical and cultural phenomenon. From a solemn remembrance of the horrors of war and the war often called the War to End All Wars and a sincere desire to work for peace, that day has morphed to an honoring of veterans of all wars and an attempt to make it a three-day weekend to “encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production.”
It is fitting to honor veterans who have sacrificed much, including wounded bodies and minds, to defend the nation. It is another thing altogether to find the right way to recognize the service of veterans who have served in the ill-begotten wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and others. Wars that should never have been fought. Veterans who hear the words “Thank you for your service” question what their service was for. In such wars, peace was not, is not, being fostered, but instead, more death, suffering and destruction. For me personally, I sincerely wish that we all could learn to simply live our lives and let others live theirs, avoiding war through ardent, sincere and wise diplomatic means.
On Sunday, November 11, this year, let us remember Armistice Day (aka Veterans Day) wherever we are with two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. as church bells and chimes everywhere ring out. One hundred years after the Great War that was thought to end all wars, let us remember the horrors of that war and all those that followed and rededicate ourselves to fostering peace.
Czaplinski lives in Warren and is president of Will Miller Green Mountain Veterans for Peace, Chapter 57.