One hundred years ago, bells worldwide were rung at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to celebrate the ending of World War I, “the war to end all wars.”
To commemorate that peaceful pledge, bells were rung around the world on Nov. 11 for more than 35 years. Congress declared this date “ … a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.” Then in 1954, Congress changed the name of the day to Veterans Day. This year, Veterans Day is being observed on Nov. 12.
World War I was horrendous. More than 18 million people were killed, with about 60 percent of those being soldiers. As the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, there truly was exuberant joy in the streets of this country and on every continent in the world. The vileness of the war was abhorrent to the peoples of the world, and they took hope in the promise that it had been “the war to end all wars.” However, revulsion at the brutality of war is not a sufficient foundation for peace.
The outbreak of World War II, just 21 years later, is evidence of that. An additional 80 million died in World War II, with about 30 percent of those being soldiers.
To recognize the day as Armistice Day rather than Veterans Day is not at all intended as a slight to veterans. In fact, the best way to honor military veterans, both dead and alive, is to make a commitment to work for peace and to never again send citizen soldiers to an unjustifiable war. Veterans For Peace, made up of military veterans of conflicts ranging from WWII to Afghanistan and having experienced the military culture and ethic, have a unique responsibility to work for non-violent paths to conflict resolution.
Now, in 2018, one hundred years after the end of World War I, the United States is engaged in the longest war in its history, Afghanistan, which began in 2001.
The current administration has unilaterally withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which was negotiated with Iran and five other countries, and which has been adhered to by those countries. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran, which will bring more affliction to Iranian civilians than to their government. The U.S. has withdrawn from a decades-old nuclear arms treaty, opening the door to a resumption of the nuclear arms race.
The U.S. continues to be complicit in the Saudi coalition’s barbaric assault on Yemen.
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The 2019 U.S. military budget is $82 billion higher than just two years ago, and will constitute more than 55 percent of discretionary spending.
We Americans must press our government to end reckless rhetoric and military interventions that threaten rather than enhance our security.
If we want peace, we have to work for peace, and this historic Armistice Day is the ideal time to recommit.
Veterans For Peace Chapter 161 is sponsoring an Armistice Day Observance in Iowa City at 10:45 a.m. today, at the Clinton Street entrance to Old Capitol. Attendees are urged to arrive ahead of time, as Assembly will be played promptly at 10:45 a.m. Bells will once again ring at 11 a.m. The Observance will feature Veterans For Peace members from around the state, and is free and open to the public. An open mic discussion on how to build peace will follow the event and lunch at Old Brick.
This event is more than just a historical remembrance. It is about today, about our pressing need to quash the continuing rush to war, and instead to take up the sweet burden of building a lasting peace.
• Ed Flaherty of Iowa City is a member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 161.