Armistice Day: A Time for Peace
Veteran’s Day was originally named Armistice Day. At 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month , 1918 the guns froze into a deafening stillness, ending the most horrendous and murderous war to date. World War 1 saw the first use of poison gas, aerial bombing of civilians and the first genocide of over 1 million Armenians. Author Kurt Vonnegut , held prisoner in Dresden during the firebomb annihilation of 30,000 civilians 13-14 February 1945 ,attempted to write the experience out of his soul for the rest of his life. Vonnegut wrote of interviewing veterans who rose , grateful to be alive, out of the trenches 11 November 1918 saying the sudden quiet was as the voice of God speaking to mankind. Armistice Day was initially remembered by Americans standing together in silence every November 11 at 11:00 a.m. to give thanks for the stoppage of the guns and reflect on the war, as if we too, heard God saying “No more!”
October 1969 I circulated petitions to end the Vietnam War. My neighbor , a veteran of the WWI trenches, barbed wire and machine guns in the Meuse-Argonne eagerly signed saying ” No one needs to ever see what I saw in that war and you don’t need to go to Vietnam.” Mr. Blue ( not his real name) is gone now. I am sure he would sign to get another generation of boys out of Iraq/Afghanistan.
Exit polls showed that our continuing wars in Iraq/Afghanistan were not a voter concern last week. The My Lai, Vietnam, massacres of civilians by stressed U.S. troops filled the news November 1969. The recent Wikileaks release of U.S. documents detailing the horrors , the civilian deaths, the torture, our widespread use of paid mercenaries , has received little notice. These documents deserve a Congressional investigation and a national examination of our conscience as to how we went so far off course, traumatized as we were by the events of 9/11. Rather than a national soul-searching, it is nauseating in the light of the sad and ugly truth about these wars, indeed all wars, that Newt Gingrich boasts that the U.S. is once again “… a remarkably powerful, and if necessary, remarkably dangerous country …” now that Republicans are back in charge.( FOX News interview 4 Nov.) This kind of thinking guarantees more wars, more deaths. Our precious young men and women pay the price.
So many have paid. 5,787 are dead, nearly 10% of the number of U.S. deaths in Vietnam. 42,000 are wounded, many of them horribly so. An estimated million Iraqis/Afghanis are dead. Obama has not been audacious enough for peace as 730 troops have died in Afghanistan under his command. A Rand Corporation study estimates nearly 20% of returning troops suffer from severe PTSD. It is as if they emotionally died , having seen and experienced combat, life and death that cannot be discussed at the family dinner. I have seen over a dozen of those so affected late at night in the emergency department. 1,985 U.S. troops committed suicide 2001-2009, many more deaths resulted from drug related or high-risk self-destructive behaviors (“Military is Battling Alarming Suicide Rate” The Houston Chronicle 10 October). The recent DVD release “Brothers” does a good portrayal of the emotional devastation of PTSD for suffering vets and their loved ones.
Estimated total financial costs of the wars are $3-6 trillion as of February 2008 ( The Three Trillion Dollar War” NY Times 23 Feb 2008). It takes a million dollars a year in direct costs to keep one soldier in Afghanistan fighting for the corrupt Karzai government. None of the so-called “deficit hawks” seem to be able to honestly admit that fully 50% of U.S. discretionary spending is military. Think deficit? Think Iraq/Afghanistan. At home school levies fail, bridges collapse, homes are foreclosed, millions are unemployed, millions have no health care, police and fire-fighters are laid off. “Deficit Hawks” fight to keep taxes the lowest they have been in 60 years for the richest among us. Meanwhile, my grandson was recruited at Pumpkin Show for the next war. An Army recruiter in a booth featuring wide-screen video-game- like war action made him a set of dog tags he was proud to show me.
This Veteran’s Day let’s honor the spirit of Armistice Day and silence the guns. Let’s look after the veterans and their families among us ,affording them all assistance they may require. Let’s build schools, deliver health care, repair our infrastructure, invest in green technology, assist our struggling families.
Dr. Cotton is President of the Southern Ohio Chapter of Veterans for Peace. VFP members draw on their personal experiences and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of the true costs of militarism and war—and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives