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Frances Wiedenhoeft: Making the case for Armistice Day

This op-ed originally appeared on madison.com.

Remember Armistice Day? Unless you were socially aware before 1954, or had an exceptional history teacher, probably not. I didn’t.

The day we now honor solely as a tribute to military veterans has its roots in a national dedication to peace. Consider the history. America’s founders believed war would be a temporary state until the country got off the ground. They viewed a standing army as a threat to our fledgling democracy. A nation with a ready military would be more likely to use it. The result would be a potentially unsustainable tax burden on citizens to support the army and the wars.

Two generations later, 8 million soldiers and 10 million civilians were dead in the bloodiest, most far reaching and destructive war the world had ever seen. On Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., an armistice was signed to end World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed to a war-weary nation that Nov. 11 would be celebrated as a day for America “to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the council of nations.”

Congress strengthened the intention of the day in its 1926 resolution that “the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations.”

In the intervening years, America’s commitment to celebrate Nov. 11 honoring peace has wavered. By 1954, after World War II and a war on the Korean Peninsula, the United States was home to more than 20 million veterans. President Eisenhower changed the name of the Nov. 11 holiday to Veteran’s Day. His goal was to “pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this nation.”

Unfortunately, the day to “solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly” has romanticized war. Talk of peace is seen as unpatriotic and a disservice to veterans.

My own deployments have taught me that no one desires peace more than a soldier. We have seen firsthand the inglorious brutality of war and its vicious cycle of pain and retribution. As a veteran, I believe nothing makes our nation greater or honors my service better than celebration to resolve world conflict through peaceful and diplomatic means.

Can a day to honor veterans coexist with a return to the original spirit of Armistice Day? Absolutely. The best way to honor a veteran is to celebrate peace.

Wiedenhoeft, of Madison, is a veteran of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Desert Storm, and a member of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 25.

Horror of war captured in art – Display in Gallery 211 showscases work of soldier turned activist

Originally posted on TheClairion

Ana Bon, Art Director

Allie Christensen/Clarion “Long Shadow” by David Giffey is on dispay through Sept. 30. Giffey will be at the artist’s reception on Sept. 22 from noon to 2 p.m.

Paintings about remembrances of the Vietnam War currently hang on the walls of Gallery 211 at Madison College’s downtown campus.

David Giffey, peace activist and war veteran, has found his “Long Shadow” series of paintings to be a peaceful way of confronting something terrible.

“I feel these are anti-war paintings,” said Giffey, sitting in the center of his gallery exhibition. “If someone disagrees with me, that’s their right, they don’t have to look.”

You can find elements of Giffey’s original black and white photographs in each of his paintings.

Next to each painting, you can read an expert from the personal journal that Giffey kept during combat.

“It’s a very private kind of journal but I share parts of it sometimes, ” he said. The chosen entries best describe Giffey’s memories and emotions regarding the paintings.

“Long Shadow” is a series of paintings that is different from Giffey’s preceding artwork. In contrast to his prior work, these paintings were done more quickly, and the coloration much redder, expressing the violence and his emotional outlook as an artist. He has decorated churches and painted murals, but these paintings are a more personal expression.

“I can’t imagine and I’ve never heard of a visual artist who tried to illustrate anything about the violence of war in any way other than just shocking violence imagery, and that is really what war is about, there is nothing romantic or peaceful about it,” he said.

“I hope that whoever really takes the time to examine, to look at the photographs, to read the labels, will realized that militarism and the traditions of militarism, really, really need to be examined,” said Giffey. Giffey’s paintings are not only an artistic expression, they are also a form of self-awareness.

“While I was in Vietnam in the war, I became very convinced that it was a terrible mistake,” said Giffey. “That we, American soldiers, should not have been there. It was not our concern.”

Giffey grew up on a very small dairy farm in Fond du Lac county in Wisconsin. He attended UW-Oshkosh but was really interested in writing and got a job with a newspaper. At that time, the ‘60s, if you weren’t in college, you were eligible to be drafted in the military. Giffey leaned towards writing over college and was drafted in 1964.

“Even though I had been politically active, I really hadn’t been aware of the south east Asia and Vietnam as a potential place where there would be a war. However, about a year later, I found myself on a ship going to Vietnam,” said Giffey.

When he was drafted for Vietnam, he was first trained as an artillery gunner, then reassigned to become the assistant editor of for the first infantry division. It was his duty to go into combat missions along with other soldiers to take photographs.

As soon as Giffey came back from war in 1966, he joined the peace movement

“I go to high schools and try to let young people know that there are alternatives to the military,” he said. “After the war in Vietnam, it was clear to me that I had to try to work for peace and justice whenever possible. It’s a helpful kind of work for me, just like visual art and writing, because it is non-violent.”

“My time in the Army and the war never leaves my mind. It was a difficult time and I will always try to overcome my participation in the military by following a peaceful path.”


Artist reception will be held Sept.22 at the Downtown Campus, with refreshments provided from noon to 2 p.m.

To see more of Giffey’s artwork you can visit davidgiffey.com.