This year’s Armistice Day has left me wondering if we ever will regain the original meaning of the day, a day that Congress proclaimed in 1924 to be a day to celebrate the outbreak of peace following WWI.
Thirty years later, Congress renamed November 11 “Veterans Day,” and the concept of celebrating peace seemingly has been assigned to the trash heap of history. This year, we heard endless tributes to our military service members and veterans, but not a word about ending our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, or ending our sale and shipment of weapons around the world. How far we have come from the original intent of Armistice Day! We now are the world’s major weapons supplier, our government is engaged in multiple endless wars, and we are the largest operator, by far, of military bases throughout the world.
A recent story in Sports Illustrated magazine brought home to me how we manage to maintain endless wars while imagining that we are living in peace. Football star Eric Reid was asked why he was supporting Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the opening of the NFL games this year. Reid replied that he supported Kaepernick’s effort to draw attention to injustice in this country. Howls of protest ensued, with claims that anything less than total respect for our flag and anthem was an insult to our veterans and service members. Reid then pointed out the hypocrisy in idolizing our men and women in uniform and then ignoring homeless vets when they return because we don’t care enough about them to provide for reasonable adjustment to civilian life.
We make any criticism of the US, or of US policies or shortcomings, to be synonymous with disrespect for our troops. In this way, we blind ourselves to the fact that all our platitudes about defending our freedoms are simply excuses for engaging in endless war. We always have money for war, but never have enough money to properly care for our veterans.
And why is it that we couldn’t have a peace candidate in our recent election?
In 1935, retired Marine General Smedley Butler published “War Is a Racket.” He described a racket as a system that operates without most people understanding how or why that system operates. Gen. Butler described war as fitting the definition of a racket because “the few profit while the many pay,” and few understand the real reasons for any particular war.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq fits this description perfectly. George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes for this totally unnecessary war yet, 13 years later, the war goes on, others are blamed, Congress allows waging war to be a sole prerogative of the president, and successive presidents attack other countries seemingly for sport. And yet, sadly, neither major political party saw fit to make room for a peace candidate.
Veterans For Peace have been working to expose this racket, and the true costs of war, since their organization was founded in 1985. Obviously, they have a long way to go to overcome the constant drumbeat of war propaganda offered by our mass media. It should come as no surprise that our mainstream media are owned by the same corporations that manufacture the weapons of war. This is all part of the racket.
One of the great costs of war is the fact that all soldiers also are victims. This recognition is why Veterans For Peace have expanded to include new chapters not just in the US, but in England, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Mexico, and welcome new members from Israel, Palestine, Germany, Australia, Canada and Russia, among other nations struggling with global militarism.
Imagine a world in which soldiers and veterans realize mutually that their enmity for each other has been manufactured for the benefit of a few profiteers. Only then can we begin to understand the true spirit of Armistice Day. Perhaps, on the centennial of the original Armistice Day – November 11, 1918 – we will have managed to recruit peace candidates to lead all our political parties, and the day will again be a day dedicated to the celebration of peace rather than the glorification of war.