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.
These days, on what since President Eisenhower’s day has been called Veterans Day, Americans don’t even talk about peace, or about the evils of war. Instead we crudely commercialize the sacrifice of our people in uniform with secretly funded and tawdry Pentagon propaganda displays of patriotism at our professional sports events, mindlessly thank anyone in uniform for “defending our freedom,” (never mind that nobody in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan ever threatened it in the first place), and cheer like idiots whenever a candidate for office calls for more money for the ironically named “Defense” Department, which already accounts for 54 cents out of every tax dollar.
It’s high time we restored the original name to the Nov. 11 holiday and started calling it Armistice Day again. No more military parades. No more air shows, with fighters and bombers roaring in formation over modern-day gladiator exhibitions, no more glorification of war, no more calling our imperial centurions “warriors” and the victims of our imperial wars “wounded warriors.”
Armistice Day should be a day to contemplate the urgent need for peace, both here at home and in the world at large, a day to contemplate an America where maybe 10 cents of the tax dollar goes to military (with most of that going to care for the already existing victims of our years of belligerence).
Instead of hailing our veterans, we should be caring for them properly, and vowing not to create any more of them, so that someday, it won’t be possible to have a Veterans Day, because there will no longer be any of them.