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At the stroke of the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, weapons fell silent, and the end of “The Great War” was marked. November 11th is now known as Veterans Day, but originally, this day was called Armistice Day, signifying an agreement to stop all fighting following World War I’s years of bloodshed. This day was set aside to reflect and remember the sacrifices men and women made during World War I in order to ensure lasting peace.
Over the years the concept of Armistice Day has evolved and in 1954 the holiday’s name was officially changed to Veterans Day, with President Eisenhower stating: "Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly ... and let us re-consecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so their sacrifices shall not have been in vain."
On this Armistice Day, armed conflict grips the lives of hundreds of millions worldwide. Bombs are falling and bullets flying in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Pakistan, and it seems the rest of the world teeters in a precarious position, one small incident away from global mayhem. Soldiers and civilians alike are targeted daily, frequently wounded both physically and emotionally, left with scars that will last a lifetime.
As a US Army veteran, I am keenly aware of the human cost of war and in recent weeks, I seized the opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine. Along with 11 others, I spoke with government representatives, medical professionals, community leaders and individuals and families, in order to learn more about their situation. We had the opportunity to visit with the family of a 23 year old Palestinian man, killed during last winter’s war between Israel and Gaza. As we spoke with the young man’s parents, and younger sister and brother, in a simple home consisting of concrete walls and a tin roof, their grief was palpable. They talked of how much they missed his wit and his commitment to their family, and of how his loss has brought with it not only sadness and anger, but challenges in coping with their daily lives and in simply carrying on.
Upon our return to the US, I was reminded of the story of 23 year old Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey. Following service in Iraq, which Lucey escaped physically unscathed, he returned home, grew increasingly despondent and hung himself in his parents’ basement. Like the Palestinian family, Lucey’s family remains distraught and continues to have difficulty coping with their incredible loss; they too miss a unique young man, who left them far too soon.
Both Lucey and the Palestinian man were 23. Both were vibrant young men, in the prime of their lives. Both sacrificed for their mission. Both had lives that were cut far too short. And both of their deaths have left with them, ripple effects for unknown numbers of family and friends. Lucey and the Palestinian man are but two; multiply this by tens of millions, and one can begin to understand the devastating impact war has not only on individuals and families, but on communities and nations.
There MUST be a better way. Destroying the lives of young men and women, and their families, destroying the hope and future of whole nations – these simply cannot be the means to a better world. Soldiers and veterans of all nationalities share a common bond of serving a cause beyond themselves and we identify with one another in our service. Likewise, all veterans understand in a profound way the consequences of war and the destructive impact armed conflict has upon individuals, families and communities and indeed, entire nations.
President Wilson, in addressing Congress on the first Armistice Day said: “To conquer with arms is to make only a temporary conquest; to conquer the world by earning its esteem is to make permanent conquest.” It hardly seems possible that when the armistice was signed in 1918, our leaders could have envisioned the almost 100 years of near constant conflict which has since ensued throughout the world.
Therefore on this day, please, in honor of all veterans, do more than “thank a vet.” I ask you to consider the fact that wars are easy to start and hard to stop, and that the cost of war to soldiers, veterans, communities and nations, goes well beyond dollars. On this day and going forward, this veteran urges all to re-consider the true meaning of Armistice Day, ponder what it means to “re-consecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace,” and re-commit to honoring veterans in the best way imaginable: by securing a lasting peace.