Friday, November 11, 2011


It's Veterans Day. Once it was called Armistice Day to mark the passing of "the war to end all wars," World War I. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the war to end all wars ended. It was followed, from the American point of view, by World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan ... and, given my flawed memory, probably some I have forgotten. The war to end all wars did nothing of the kind.

A few days back, I wrote a small letter to the local paper offering my point of view. I doubt that they will print it, so I'll print it here:

                                       PEACE ON VETERANS DAY
A friend of mine, Dave, was in the Korean War as an Army engineer. And it was he who told me, as veterans are often understandably reluctant to do, of the nights when he and his company were dug in, freezing in foxholes, alert and exhausted and conscious of the fact that the enemy might attack under cover of darkness.

And the enemy did attack on more than one occasion. But as often as not, it was not  artillery or mortar or machine-gun fire they employed. Instead, through the cold and frightening nights, there would be an overwhelming silence. But the next morning, when the blessed light returned, several men in adjacent foxholes would be found at rest ... with their heads cut off.

"They wore sneakers," Dave said of the enemy that came in the night.

Which of us would not shiver and recoil at such a horror? Which of us would ask our friends and neighbors to endure such a world? From the comfort of our homes, it is unspeakable to commit such acts or to be party to a world in which such acts are committed. Blaming others is no excuse.

And so, as the flags wave and the bands play and the veterans march on America's Main Streets, I truly hope everyone will honor those who have been forced to endure such soul-searing adventures, whether as victim or perpetrator. It demeans the efforts of our veterans to suggest that the best peace they have assured is a peace in which others are forced to do what they would give their eye teeth to forget ... and yet cannot.

Let us honor the scars that others bear and have borne ... and give a wide berth to a patriotism and peace that can do no better than to send our friends and neighbors back to some new, and equally nightmarish, front.

Given my memory, I recall little of the history of World War I, the war to end all wars. There was the battle of the Somme in which a million men -- a million men, for Christ's sake! -- were killed. Mustard gas and the newly-employed machine gun helped make that possible. But World War I was also the time of what was called the "Christmas Truce," a time (actually several times over a period of time leading up to Christmas 1914) when soldiers on both sides simply did not fight, but chose rather to exchange gifts, sing carols, play soccer and carry out burial of the dead from both sides. The 'truce' drove the generals -- and no doubt the politicians who controlled them -- out of their minds.  In a time of inhumanity, remembering and exercising humanity is a dangerous thing! What if everybody did that, right? Hell, peace might break out! World War I was also the inspiration for folk singer John McCutcheon's "Christmas in the Trenches," a song that details the Christmas Truce.

The song makes me cry ... every time.

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