Time to Contemplate Peace, Not to Celebrate War and Warriors
I had two grandfathers who fought -- and I mean fought -- in World War I. Both of them were in the trenches in France. One, my paternal grandfather William Lindorff, received a Silver Star for heroism under fire. He was an ambulance driver on the front lines because although he had been in the US since he was three, he had been born in Germany, and knew German from his German mother, so the US military in its wisdom wouldn’t let him carry a gun. My other maternal grandfather, a sprinter who missed the Olympics because of the war, was hit with German mustard gas, and with his lungs permanently scarred, never got to excel as an athlete after that, but had a career as a high school coach in Greensboro, NC.
Neither of my grandfathers ever spoke about their wartime experiences.
My father and mother both served in WWII -- my dad as a Marine and my mother as a Navy WAVE. Mom found her experience doing secretarial work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to be an adventure, and talked fondly of it often when I was growing up. But my dad, who worked as a technician in the top-secret Radiation Lab crash program to miniaturize radar so it could be put on planes, hated the military and loathed the Marines as an organization. Both my parents were pacifists by the time I was old enough to be thinking about such issues.
I thought about this today, on a date that once was all about pacifism, back when it was established as Armistice Day at the end of the first World War, but which has become a day for glorifying war and the veterans who have had to fight in our nation’s countless wars.
When Armistice Day -- the date when an armistice ended the fighting in Europe in 1918 -- was officially established by an act of Congress in 1926, while memories of “The Great War’s” years-long bloodletting were still fresh, the act stated 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.”
That never happened. The day quickly evolved into a holiday for military parades and patriotic displays. Of course, peace didn’t last too long, either. Fifteen years later, the US was declaring war on Japan, Germany and Italy. Another World War was underway.
Since the end of the Second World War, the US has been in a state of war for at least 40 of the 70 intervening years, not counting the Cold War that lasted four decades. During many of those years, on up to the present, the US military has been engaged in hostilities in multiple countries at once. It has, during those years, bombed over 30 countries. Over 100,000 US troops have died in those post-1945 wars, and the US has killed over 8 million people, most of them civilians, during that period. By one count, the US has been at war for 93% of the years since its founding as a nation in 1776 -- 222 years out of a total of 239.