Some context for our next installment of the Reid-Knox Forum
I wanted to give everyone a little background on how the Veterans Day Forum has evolved and welcome comments before we go further. As background I should point out I am a member of only one veterans’ organization, Veterans for Peace. We are not a simple organization of wartime buddies getting together at our local clubhouse, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) – which has an Alma building on Wright near the Masonic Pathways. I don’t say we’re different to be critical of the VFW, only to make clear we are not the same. We had our origins in something once called Vietnam Veterans Against the War, only to evolve with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. in our current name.
When some of you suggested we do something for Veterans Day, I turned to a local Vietnam Vet, who is not in Veterans for Peace, Tim Caldwell, who taught music for many years at CMU ad who worked with me on the Confederate flag forum in August. Tim wrote a very moving book on his service in Vietnam and has agreed to do a reading from one of his essays at the start of the Veterans Day forum. But, we wanted to get a younger veteran and I already had gotten emails from Veterans for Peace promoting Veterans Day ideas. So I called and they said Leah Bolger was free and would be glad to speak via zoom from her home in Oregon.
Leah retired in 2000 from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Commander after twenty years of active duty service. She became extremely critical of Bush’s foreign policy and eventually became the first women to head Veterans for Peace. She would prefer to speak on our foreign and military policy, especially spending on ‘defense.’
She, suggested, after Tim does his reading, I describe briefly the Restoring Armistice Day issue and then she would speak followed with open discussion. But, I must emphasize you would be hearing three veterans who are critics. This would not be a ‘rah rah’ war event. But it is very much in keeping with the current movement to restore Armistice Day. So I want to explain what that movement is about.
Restoring the day to its original purpose – to honor the service and sacrifice of veterans – especially remembering those who died in service arises from the late 20th Century conversion into a ‘support the troops’ and our foreign policy. You may recall the most extreme version of this was Trump’s proposal for a big military parade in Washington (after he saw a French military parade).
Armistice Day began as a celebration of peace. The date was picked because Nov. 11, 1918 was the day the fighting in World War I ended – at 11:00 a.m. Since that day, 102 years ago, the day has been observed in all the countries that fought in that war. In countries like Canada it was and is called Remembrance Day. With that name, after the 1940s with all the World War II vets, places like Canada didn’t need to change the name of the holiday. Because the U.S. had chosen the name Armistice Day, named for the Nov. 11, 1918 event – the Armistice, in the 1950s Congress renamed the day Veterans Day. But, for a time it continued as a day to recall service, sacrifice and peace. But, slowly, our foreign and military policy makers have pushed it into being a celebration of military might.
One of the great critics of this change was Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse Five, a novel based on his experiences as a soldier and POW during World War II. Vonnegut wrote:
November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred?
Rory Fanning, a veteran of the Iraq War, explained his preference for Armistice Day in this way, “Armistice Day was a hallowed anniversary because it was supposed to protect future life from future wars. Veterans Day, instead, celebrates ‘heroes’ and encourages others to dream of playing the hero themselves, covering themselves in valor.”
Sorry this has been so long, but this leads to the question: Do we want to be the sponsor of this type forum? Is it too critical a topic for us? A few members of the Clinton County Democratic Party who know of Leah are enthused - but maybe they are not typical.