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.