Sunday, November 11, 2007

Armistice Day

I know that we have now replaced Armistice Day, a remembrance of the men who fought and died during the human disaster that was WWI, and replaced it with Veteran's Day to remember all of America's veterans. I feel a little self-conscious about Veteran's Day and I remember seeing WWI veterans when I was growing up. That terrible conflict does not get enough attention now and, since it was the first major war of a warfare-filled century and really the war from which all of the others grew, I choose to remember it and the men who fought it. These men gave enormously to put the United States in a place where we could later defeat the Nazis and the Communists. That series of wars did not end until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

That is not to say that I don't respect Veteran's Day and all of America's veterans, but being one, I'll let others write about that, and I thank them very much for their kind words.

In 1923, on Saturday November 10th, Woodrow Wilson spoke on the significance of Armistice Day. (There is a link to an audio recording of the speech at the website.) It was a short speech and is reproduced in its entirity below.
The anniversary of Armistice Day should stir us to great exaltation of spirit because of the proud recollection that it was our day, a day above those early days of that never-to-be-forgotten November which lifted the world to the high levels of vision and achievement upon which the great war for democracy and right was fought and won; although the stimulating memories of that happy time of triumph are forever marred and embittered for us by the shameful fact that when the victory was won-won, be it remembered-chiefly by the indomitable spirit and ungrudging sacrifices of our incomparable soldiers-we turned our backs upon our associates and refused to bear any responsible part in the administration of peace, or the firm and permanent establishment of the results of the war-won at so terrible a cost of life and treasure-and withdrew into a sullen and selfish isolation which is deeply ignoble because manifestly cowardly and dishonorable.

This must always be a source of deep mortification to us and we shall inevitably be forced by the moral obligations of freedom and honor to retrieve that fatal error and assume once more the role of courage, self-respect and helpfulness which every true American must wish to regard as our natural part in the affairs of the world.

That we should have thus done a great wrong to civilization at one of the most critical turning points in the history of the world is the more to be deplored because every anxious year that has followed has made the exceeding need for such services as we might have rendered more and more evident and more and more pressing, as demoralizing circumstances which we might have controlled have gone from bad to worse.

And now, as if to furnish a sort of sinister climax, France and Italy between them have made waste paper of the Treaty of Versailles and the whole field of international relationship is in perilous confusion.

The affairs of the world can be set straight only by the firmest and most determined exhibition of the will to lead and make the right prevail.

Happily, the present situation in the world of affairs affords us the opportunity to retrieve the past and to render mankind the inestimable service of proving that there is at least one great and powerful nation which can turn away from programs of self-interest and devote itself to practicing and establishing the highest ideals of disinterested service and the consistent maintenance of exalted standards of conscience and of right.

The only way in which we can worthily give proof of our appreciation of the high significance of Armistice Day is by resolving to put self-interest away and once more formulate and act upon the highest ideals and purposes of international policy. Thus, and only thus, can we return to the true traditions of America.

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