Armistice Day, 2017

As November 11 draws near, I ready myself to observe  Armistice Day, a day set aside to honor the 17 million war dead of the Great War. Since 1954 its official name has been Veterans Day, which honors all veterans, living and dead, who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States (including me).

While it is just and good that all veterans be honored with a special day, I am cognizant of the fact that the basis for the holiday, and the date on which the holiday is observed, is that The Great War (which we now call World War I) ended in 1918 on November 11.  To this day, many other countries honor those who sacrificed their lives in World War I  by observing Armistice Day, or in some cases, Remembrance Day. The day has gravitas.

Regarding Veteran’s Day, I share the opinion of writer, WWII POW, and fellow veteran Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:

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? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance. And all music is.

Mr. Vonnegut, a survivor of the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany as a POW in World War II, wrote those words in the 1973 novel, Breakfast of Champions.  

Among my good friends are one or two who feel, and rightfully so, that folks who served, and fought, and died in other wars are somehow slighted by thinking of November 11 as Armistice Day rather than Veterans Day. I can well understand their point. There should be such a day. And ideally it would exist on some other date, but it does not.

So this Saturday,  as we honor all of our country’s veterans, we should also strive to remember that it is not simply Veterans Day, but it is Armistice Day as well. And we should remember, as Kurt Vonnegut tells it, that day “when God spoke clearly to mankind.”