Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day - Veterans Day

Americans burying their dead at Bois de Consenvoye, France; November 8, 1918.

Most people know that Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day. The purpose was to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - November 11th, 1918. The armistice was signed at Rethondes, France and ended hostilities on the Western Front. The war continued across the Russian and Ottoman Empires.

The commemoration was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to remember veterans of all of the wars that Americans had to fight. The price of our freedom has been high.

We often commemorate the events of World War II, it is never far from our memory.

We have forgotten World War I, the Great War. It, like the American Civil War and WW II was a war of horrible devastation and loss of life, draining the strength of Europe and claiming many American lives. It, like the others, was also a testing ground for new advances in warfighting, most notably including the tank, chemical warfare, and aerial warfare.

I choose to remember the armistice of November 11th, 1918 not for the changes in warfighting that were characteristic of WW I, or even of that war itself, but of the horrific loss of life and the horrific ways in which it was lost. Most of us have forgotten the Great War, and we should not. It was the beginning of warfare that lasted from 1914 through 1945. World War II was set up by, and can even be seen as a continuation of the Great War. The shots, fired by Gavrilo Princip, that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie (background here), resulted in warfare that killed more than 20 million people in World War 1 and over 70 million people in World War 2.

Make no mistake, I honor and remember all veterans of all wars, but I have many other occasions to do that. After 21 years of active duty service, I know many of them personally, often talking and drinking with them. But, for me, this day will always be about those heroes of 1917, the year that we entered WW I.

For the United States, this was the "war to end all wars". That is what we believed and this is what those men fought for. However completely that idea failed, they are still heroes and we do poorly if we fail to remember and venerate them. So, for me, Veterans Day will always be Armistice Day - for them.

Read and learn (as I am still doing);
Photos of the Great War
World War One

No one hates war more than the warriors.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army
IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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