[The original submission for the Corvallis Gazette-Times “As I See It” piece, published Nov. 6, 2016]
November 11 is Armistice Day
Many celebrate November 11 as Veterans Day, but across the country, Veterans For Peace chapters and other peace and justice groups will be ringing bells to commemorate Armistice Day.
The Armistice of 1918 ended the terrible slaughter of World War I. Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded in that war. The world had never witnessed such carnage.
For one moment, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (11a.m. on November 11, 1918), the world agreed World War I must be the “War to End All Wars.”
There was exuberant joy everywhere and many churches rang their bells, some eleven times, to mark the signing of the armistice.
In hopes of “sealing the deal,” sixty-two countries, including the belligerents from World War I, signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928, promising not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.” The United State Senate ratified that treaty by a vote of 85-1. Similar provisions were later incorporated into the United Nations Charter.
So how did Armistice Day become Veterans Day and how did this country’s foreign policy swerve so dramatically away from a renewed pursuit of peace toward one of endless war?
Armistice Day in the U.S. was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, to honor the war dead but also to affirm that the World War I armistice had provided the opportunity “…to show [America’s] sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”
Congress, following the lead of twenty-seven states, finally adopted Armistice Day as a national holiday in 1926, saying in the congressional resolution: “…it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations….”
World War II veterans wanted to expand recognition to all veterans and President Eisenhower signed a bill in 1954 officially changing the name from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day.” That’s it. There was no change to the original purpose of Armistice Day; just a name change.
Since then, as the U.S. fought direct and proxy wars to enlarge its economic sphere of influence and ensure the Soviets were denied the same, war and militarist expansion were reestablished as the preferred means of implementing U.S. foreign policy.
Why is that? The answer lies in the fact that war is a very lucrative business. As Marine General Smedley Butler, who fought in several wars of empire from Latin America to China, said, “War is a racket.”
Consider these statistics:
– The Pentagon budget consumes over 50% of federal discretionary dollars.
– The top six defense contractors (in money awarded for contracts) are the same top six election campaign donors (totaling $27M in 2012). Is this a coincidence?
– Lockheed Martin, the top 2016 defense industry campaign contributor, has spent $3.4 million of the $24.7 million total spent by defense contractors in this election cycle (as of this writing). Is there any question that this money buys access and influence?
– Every hour, taxpayers are spending $8.36 million on the Pentagon, homeland security, the Pentagon’s “slush fund” (for overseas contingency operations) and other war-related budget items; not including military health and retirement benefits.
– In 2015, Linn County taxpayers paid $91 million and Benton County $106 million to fund the Pentagon budget.
What could these “defense” dollars have funded in local projects, e.g., schools, roads, jobs, needy family assistance?
See nationalpriorities.org for details.
But what about the veterans for whom the November 11 holiday was renamed to honor?
How best to honor them? We could start by providing the health care and support they were promised.
Twenty veterans take their own lives every single day. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding is discretionary, and must be rejustified and renewed by Congress every two years. The agency is currently so severely underfunded that it cannot adequately serve the unexpected (by some) volume of medically needy Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, let alone the thousands of veterans of all prior wars still awaiting treatment for mental and physical wounds.
Most studies estimate that up to one in three homeless people are veterans and that the homeless veteran population is becoming larger and younger, as veterans suffering from PTSD (and coping by abusing drugs and alcohol) have trouble finding and keeping a job.
Of particular concern to us in Veterans For Peace are the thousands of veterans and their families who continue to suffer the effects of Agent Orange defoliant exposure from their time in Viet Nam. The VA has a tragic history of denying Agent Orange-related illness claims, especially from those with genetically inherited birth defects.
How best to honor our veterans? Wave flags at a parade and thank veterans for their service? Buy stuff at the Veterans Day sales at the mall?
How about we bring our troops home and reduce the size of the military to what is minimally necessary to defend our shores? How about shifting those public funds to colleges, technical training, health care and green energy, where millions of jobs would await those no longer employed by the armed forces?
Please join Veterans For Peace, Albany Peace Seekers, the Corvallis branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Corvallis Alternatives to War and other local faith, peace and justice groups in truly honoring veterans on November 11 (and every day) by working for peace, not celebrating militarism and war.
Bart Bolger, Chairperson, Veterans For Peace, Linus Pauling Chapter, Corvallis