How US Militarists Hijacked the True Meaning of Armistice Day
November 12, 2017
Thomas Knapp / AntiWar.com & Arnold Oliver / AntiWar.com & Danny Sjursen / AntiWar.com
If America were to accept that Vietnam was a mistake, a tragedy, a ruse, a war crime, or simply unwinnable, then the public could be forgiven for their apprehensiveness regarding future foreign interventions. By convincing people it really was a victory, then those 58,000 American boys didn't die in vain, our military remained undefeated (kind of), and the US can once again spread its values -- and troops -- around the world.
Veterans Day: 'Appropriate Homage'
Thomas Knapp / AntiWar.com
"To be blunt about it, in 1954 Armistice Day
was hijacked by a militaristic US congress and
renamed Veterans Day. Today few Americans understand
the original purpose of Armistice Day, or even remember it."
(November 11, 2017) -- In 1926, a concurrent resolution of the US Congress held it "fitting that the recurring anniversary of [the armistice which brought World War One to an end] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations . . ."
In 1938, Congress enshrined November 11 of each year as an American holiday "dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day.'"
Somewhere between 15 and 19 million human beings -- 1/3 of them civilians -- perished in World War One. Fitting, don't you think, to set aside a day each year for remembrance of the tragedy and for resolve against its repetition, however vain the latter hope might prove?
But Armistice Day is a thing of the past. In 1954, Congress acted yet again, striking the word "Armistice" from the 1938 law and inserting the word "Veterans." Why? "[I]n order," wrote president Dwight D. Eisenhower, "that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars."
What does that mean, 63 years after Eisenhower's proclamation and 99 years since the guns fell silent? USA Today reports that it means Free Stuff.
Should I care to cruise town with my DD-214 in hand this weekend, I could avail myself of free car washes, free haircuts, free flu shots, free food (including, no kidding, red, white and blue pancakes), and discounts on everything from toys to shoes to lumber.
I've got nothing against Free Stuff, of course, nor against anyone offering it or taking advantage of the offers.
But when I mentally stack up those red, white and blue pancakes next to a pile of human corpses tens of millions high (including the bodies of more than one million US military personnel since 1775), my appetite deserts me.
I'd rather have Armistice Day. "Prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace" seem far more appropriate to the occasion than a free car wash. Far more respectful, I feel, to all those whose lives have been cut short by war, and for that matter, to veterans in particular.
On a different armistice day -- VJ Day in 1945 -- my wife's father and my grandfather were serving aboard (different) US Navy ships in the Pacific. By way of honoring the memories of Bill Millay and Woodrow Knapp this Veterans Day, we've donated $11 to Veterans for Peace to help make EVERY day Armistice Day. I hope you'll do the same.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida. This article is reprinted with permission from William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.
Bring Back Armistice Day and Honor the Real Heroes
Arnold Oliver / AntiWar.com
(November 11, 2017) -- How in heck did Armistice Day become Veterans Day? Established by Congress in 1926 to "perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations, (and later) a day dedicated to the cause of world peace," Armistice Day was widely recognized for almost 30 years.
As part of that, many churches rang their bells on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- the hour in 1918 that the guns fell silent on the Western Front by which time 16 million had died in the horror of World War I.
To be blunt about it, in 1954 Armistice Day was hijacked by a militaristic US congress and renamed Veterans Day. Today few Americans understand the original purpose of Armistice Day, or even remember it.
The message of peace seeking has been all but erased. Worst of all, Veterans Day has devolved into a hyper-nationalistic quasi-religious celebration of war and the putatively valiant warriors who wage it. We no longer have a national day to recognize or reflect upon international peace.
And the identification of warriors as heroes is pretty shaky too. If you are a veteran, and honest about it, you will admit that most of what goes on during wartime is decidedly unheroic, and actual heroes in war are very few and far between.
I have to tell you that when I was in Vietnam, I was no hero, and I did not witness a single act of heroism during the year I spent there, first as a US Army private and then as a sergeant. Yes, there was heroism in the Vietnam War.
On both sides of the conflict there were notable acts of self-sacrifice and bravery. Troops in my unit wondered how the North Vietnamese troops could persevere for years in the face of daunting US firepower. US medical corpsmen performed incredible acts of valor rescuing the wounded under fire.
But I also witnessed a considerable amount of bad behavior, some of it my own. Among US troops racism against any and all Vietnamese was endemic. There were countless incidents of disrespect and abuse of Vietnamese civilians, and a large number of truly awful war crimes.
Most unheroic of all were the US military and civilian leaders who planned, orchestrated, and profited greatly from that utterly avoidable war. I should have taken action to resist the war while still on active duty, but I did not.
The cold truth is that the US invasion and occupation of Vietnam had nothing to do with protecting American peace and freedom. On the contrary, the Vietnam War was fought to forestall Vietnamese independence, not defend it; it bitterly divided the American people.
Unfortunately, Vietnam wasn't an isolated example of an unjust conflict. Many American wars -- including the 1846 Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the Iraq War (this list is by no means exhaustive) -- were waged under false pretexts against countries that didn't threaten the United States. It's hard to see how, if a war is unjust, it can be heroic to wage it.
But if the vast majority of wars are not fought for noble reasons, and few soldiers are heroic, have there been any actual heroes out there defending peace and freedom? And if so, who are they? Well, there are many, from Jesus down to the present. I'd put Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the list along with many Quakers and Mennonites. And don't forget General Smedley Butler, who wrote that "War is a Racket".
In Vietnam, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson stopped the My Lai massacre from being even worse.
Another candidate is former US Army specialist Josh Stieber who sent this message to the people of Iraq: "Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny." We were honored to be able to host Josh in our home as he walked across the US on a mission of peace while giving away the money he had earned in the military as partial atonement for his role in a thoroughly unjust war.
And how about Chelsea Manning who spent seven years behind bars for exposing more truths about the Iraq war? The real heroes are those who resist war and militarism, often at great personal cost. And now the Harvard fellows include apologists and organizers of torture, but not a whistleblower for peace. Go figure.
Because militarism has been around for such a long time, at least since Gilgamesh came up with his protection racket in Sumeria going on 5,000 years ago, people argue that it will always be with us.
But many also thought that slavery and the subjugation of women would last forever, and they're being proven wrong. We understand that while militarism will not disappear overnight, disappear it must if we are to avoid economic as well as moral bankruptcy -- not to mention the extinction of our species.
As Civil War General W.T. Sherman said at West Point, "I confess without shame that I am tired and sick of war." We're with you, bro.
This year on November 11th, Veterans For Peace will bring back the original Armistice Day traditions. Join them and let those bells ring out.
Arnold "Skip" Oliver syndicated by PeaceVoice, and is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. A Vietnam veteran, he belongs to Veterans For Peace, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Best Way to Honor a Vet is With the Truth
Clinging to myths about Iraq and
Vietnam only guarantees more war
Danny Sjursen / AntiWar.com
(November 9, 2017) -- Stop me if you've heard this: American soldiers didn't lose in Vietnam. In fact, our brave troopers had the commies whipped by the late '60s; that is, of course, before a conspiratorial cabal of cowardly hippies, anti-war protestors, and dovish liberals pulled the rug out from under an all-but-victorious US military. It's quite a tale, replete with heroes, villains, and glib moral lessons. It is all wrong of course, faulty and fallacious.
Others -- debunked historians and enthusiastic military officers among them -- posit an altogether different, and even more insidious myth. The US military could've won, almost did win; it's just that dusty old World War II vets like General Westmoreland remained fixated on conventional war when they should've applied counterinsurgency tactics.
One young military officer you may have heard of -- then Major David Petraeus -- argued as much in his Princeton doctoral dissertation. Later, as General Petraeus sought to apply the lessons of Vietnam to Iraq, he spawned a generation of so-called soldier-scholar "COINdinistas" -- young Iraq and Afghan vets keen to win hearts and minds throughout the Islamic East. Counterinsurgency could work, they vociferously asserted (perhaps the "lady doth protest too much?"). Their favorite case studies: Malaya and Vietnam.
They were wrong too, of course, and, like the Vietnam narrative spinners, are being by more serious scholars. As eminent Vietnam historian, and contributor to the recent Ken Burns documentary, Gregory Daddis, wrote: rather than crafting a "better war" narrative we should see Vietnam as "a case study in the limits of US power abroad."
Furthermore, "the outcome never lay entirely in American hands." This was a civil war, a Vietnamese struggle for nation and identity. So, too, was (and is) the Iraq War.
Still, you have to admire the stories. Memory is a tricky thing. Sometimes the way we collectively remember an event becomes more durable than reality. Were the resulting mental paradigms less treacherous, one could simply ignore the errors and enjoy the fable. If only. Sadly, misremembering, and mythologizing Vietnam contributed to American adventurism, first in Central America in the 1980s, then, more recently, in the Middle East.
Scarcely a decade after Saigon's fall, President Reagan reshaped the Vietnam narrative. The veterans' cause "was a noble one. . .fighting for human dignity, for free men everywhere," he proclaimed.
Reagan, faced with rebranding American pride and ethos in the wake of recession and the Iranian hostage crisis, flipped the script, overtly rebranding the military and its servicemembers as heroes more in the mold of his own Greatest Generation, rather than the depleted ranks following the failed Vietnam campaign.
Even today, patriotic, if artless, theme songs -- from Lee Greenwood to Toby Keith -- serve as background music to the flag-draped militarism and patriotic hedonism so characteristic of the Reagan and Bush II administrations. But there it stood, always in the background: Vietnam.
You see, if America were to accept that Vietnam was a mistake, a tragedy, a ruse, a war crime, or simply unwinnable, then the public could be forgiven for their apprehensiveness regarding future foreign interventions.
But, by making it ambiguous, or worse, convincing people it really was a victory, then those 58,000 American boys didn't die in vain, our military remained undefeated (kind of), and the US could once again spread its values -- and troopers -- around the world.
What a coup, for neoconservatives, historical revisionists and liberal internationalists alike. Soon after President George H.W. Bush exalted (after Desert Storm) that, "by God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all," the US recklessly launched what turned out to be a three-decade excursion in Greater Iraq. We've never truly left.
As in Vietnam, so it will be in the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq was, as I've written, an unmitigated disaster, a quagmire, a spiraling transmitter of chaos and disorder across a troubled region. Surely, given the pervasive violence in Iraq, disorder in Syria, and growing regional humanitarian crises today, contemporary observers should also concede the folly of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Right? Hardly.
Former generals (think Petraeus), ambitious retired colonels (John Nagl), neocon academics (take your pick), and unrepentant "men-in-the-arena" (Dick Cheney), still celebrate the Iraq "Surge" (2007-10) as a victory denied. We, the Americans, had won, they tell us. We lowered violence, ended a civil war, and stabilized the country -- only to be sold out by feckless Obama and his band of spineless misfits. The soldiers left too soon, the wars are "generational," the Iraqi Armed Forces needed more advisors . . .on and on the American solutions unfold.
They're broken records, many of these (often military) folks, and you can understand why. They have sacrificed: years, lives, friends, limbs, and happiness. Surely that can't all have been for nothing. Many veterans are vulnerable to benevolent lies. They, unlike their militarist cheerleaders, can be forgiven. Maybe. Policymakers and so-called strategists, however, must rise above such naïve fallacies.
America didn't win anything, not in Vietnam, nor in Iraq. Iraq's violence dropped as senior officers bought off former Sunni insurgents and surgically targeted extremists. There was, no doubt, much valor displayed on the streets of Baghdad and Anbar in 2007. I saw it first-hand. But it was temporary, fleeting, and momentary.
American troops, guns, money, and blood bought us time and a seemingly graceful exit. That's about all. Iraq's government never gained legitimacy in the Kurdish north or Sunni west. Corruption and sectarianism reigned. Our strongman, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, terrorized Sunni protesters, and kept Sunnis out of government work.
The country is again in danger of fracturing. The center didn't hold -- it never could. Iraq is a mirage, a post-colonial tempest, and its problems (and solutions) are Arab and Kurdish. Not American. Neither plucky Petraeus nor his surge-enthusiast minions could change that. Nor will President Trump or any of "his" generals.
Discounting or omitting Vietnamese (or Arab and Afghan) agency from our collective memory is problematic in the extreme. But today's policymakers make decisions and craft "strategy" based on a distinct -- if often erroneous -- vision of the past. They deploy troops, drop bombs, and kill or maim human beings whilst viewing the world through the clouded lens of American exceptionalism. So where does that leave us?
One can guess. Surge enthusiasts and Iraq-War apologists will once again wave the "bloody shirt" of American combat deaths, denounce perfidious "doves," and charge full tilt into America's next gallant, Mideast catastrophe. I can see it all so clearly, and shudder: for my friends, children, and for this world. Because no one seems to care.
Maybe that's the point; Americans seem to prefer the optimistic lie to the ugly truth. Call it collective delusion or cognitive and moral dissonance. It's the sin of self-righteous soldiers and uninformed citizens alike. Perhaps -- when it comes to protracted, indecisive war -- ignorance really is bliss. So smile, everyone, and behold the crumbling republic.
Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, is a US Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.]
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