It hadn’t been an exceptionally long war. We had only been involved a little over a year. Since April of 1917, our forces had been fighting in the trenches in France, and now on November 11, 1918, the guns stopped and the killing was over. Still, in that short amount of time, we lost nearly 117,000 brave Americans. They told us it was the war to end all wars and the country was mighty happy to see it end. Our American sons had fought to make the world safe for democracy. But, as in most wars, democracy had nothing to do with it.
It seems to be a peculiar disease among mortal humankind that from time to time, we seem to feel the need to kill each other in large numbers. Perhaps it’s the need to thin the herd. Perhaps there is some bizarre demonic influence. Perhaps it’s a virus of some kind. The European powers had been itching for a fight. There have been many books about the causes of what was once called “The Great War”. It seems to me that Europe would have been plunged into war had someone farted at the wrong time. I imagine the Krupp family’s munitions factories just weren’t making enough money. Anyway, after the assassination of the archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Europeans were slaughtering each other wholesale. By 1917, they had gotten themselves into a nightmarish stalemate in the trenches. Churchill back in England knew that there was no chance of the war ending any time soon unless the United States entered into the fray. President Woodrow Wilson had done his best to keep us out of the war, in spite of the many voices here that were shouting for us to join the carnage.
Two events brought us into the war. One was the Zimmerman telegram, a supposed telegram from Germany to México offering large amounts of land returned to our neighbor to the south if they joined in the war and fought against the United States. This telegram was “intercepted” by U.S. intelligence and caused an uproar when news of it came to light. This telegram was later proven to be a fraud, much like the presence of uranium in Iraq. The other event was the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania by a German U-boat. The sinking of this vessel was considered further proof of the barbarity of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. There were many American citizens on that ship. The public outrage over the sinking caused us to enter the war in April of 1917.
It has come to light after many, many years, two major controversies regarding that ship. The ship sank after only one torpedo strike, according to the official story. Survivors claim there were two explosions. It seems the ship was carrying large amounts of munitions for the allied forces. This alone would have made the ship a justifiable military target. The Germans claimed that the British themselves sank the ship in order to bring America into the war. There is some circumstantial evidence to support this claim. There were British agents on board and the ship was sailing in known dangerous shipping lanes in the Atlantic when there were other safer routes which might have been taken. The chances are that we were suckered into the war, but whatever the reasons, after our entrance, the war soon ended.
After the war ended, November 11th was declared a holiday, Armistice Day, to celebrate the end of the fighting that was the worst the world had ever seen. New technological advances, such as the tank, and the airplane, had made the horror of war unthinkable. Now it was time to celebrate the peace. This had been the war to end all wars. There would never be another. It seemed a good thing to celebrate. After World War Two, however, and the beginning of the cold war, it seemed clear that war was here to stay. So in 1954, after the “police action” in Korea (not officially a war), President Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday to Veteran’s Day in order to honor all living veterans.
I think it’s a good idea to honor our veterans. These courageous men and women (and dogs) put their lives in danger so that we can enjoy the freedom that our president has been trying to take from us for the past five years. And our government thanks them by cutting their benefits and sending them into peril without the equipment they need. And I won’t say our troops do it without complaint, it is a soldier’s duty to complain, but they go anyway. They deserve our respect. They don’t make the policy. They just go where we send them and do what we tell them. And some of them don’t come back. Here are the numbers of the casualties suffered in all our wars: (these numbers include killed and wounded)
The Revolution: 10,623
The War of 1812: 6,765
The Méxican War: 17,435
The Civil War: 970,227
The Spanish American War: 1,662
World War One: 320,710
World War Two: 1,078,162
Korean War: 136,935
Gulf War: 760+ (this does not include those harmed by Agent Orange)
Iraq and Afghanistan: about 919,967 (including all casualties from all nations), probably much more.
???: Who knows, a few billion maybe?
Science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote the best definition of veterans that I have ever read. He was a medically retired US Navy officer himself when he wrote his classic novel, Starship Troopers. In it he said that there is only one distinction between veterans and non-veterans. It isn’t intelligence or education or class. It is only the fact that veterans are those who have put their own mortal bodies between their loved ones’ homes and the war’s desolation, a fact that the full verses of the Star Spangled Banner first recognized. Veterans are those who love others enough to risk laying down their lives for them, especially people they do not even know. With that definition, we should certainly consider the fire fighters and police officers that helped to rescue the victims of 9/11 as veterans as well.
At any rate, on this holiday, whether you have it off or not, it would do well to take two minutes, just two minutes, it’s not a long time, to pause and think about those who have paid dearly for the freedom we enjoy. These are people like my dad, my friend, Paul’s dad, and probably a lot of your dads and moms, too. Two minutes isn’t very much. But they deserve that much. And the thing we can do to honor them most, is to bring our troops home out of peril and make sure that we find a way to solve this old world’s problems without killing each other. Perhaps then, they will not have sacrificed in vain. And then we can celebrate this holiday for what it was meant to be, the end of war for all time. We can only hope and pray.