At this time of year, people often complain that the original meaning of the holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas have been lost to commercialism. It’s the same for Veteran’s Day, formerly as Armistice Day.
Armistice Day celebrates the treaty ending World War I, signed 99 years ago today. It was a celebration of peace, though there were of course tributes to the men who fought. The name was later changed to recognize veterans of later wars. The peace theme forgotten, it’s become another day when Americans celebrate war under the guise of honoring veterans.
November 11th is the perfect day to celebrate peace because it marks the end of the most pointless, idiotic conflict in human history. The war killed 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. There were no good guys, just aging colonial empires (plus the upstarts Germany and America) jockeying for wealth and power.
The “Great” War normalized the use of conscription (volunteer armies being “unscientific”) and censorship of the press, even in the United States. As a result of the war’s toll upon Russia, the Czar’s government fell, leading to the 75-year tyranny of the Soviet Union. The venality of the British and French caused them to humiliate and punish the German people and fragment the Austro-Hungarian Empire, creating the conditions that gave rise to Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Iron Curtain.
In the years 1914-1918 technology had made the old modes of war obsolete, enabling killing on an industrial scale. Yet the military leadership treated their armies as disposable cannon fodder. British and French commanders ordered their men to charge into German machine gun fire to be mowed down like cattle. Those who refused this suicide were charged with desertion and executed. There was also the introduction of chemical weapons, a horror that plagues us to this day.
Had the United States not been foolish enough to join in the carnage, the war might have ended in a stalemate, saving millions from oppression and annihilation in later years. The planet-sized ego of US President Woodrow Wilson, combined with the greed of J.P. Morgan and other tycoons, guaranteed the worst possible outcome.
Perhaps we humans will someday learn from our mistakes. We can reject the lies of the media and refuse to fight against exaggerated or non-existent threats. In the midst of the bloodshed of the Great War came the inspiring example of the spontaneous, unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, in which German and British soldiers crossed the trenches to exchange gifts, prisoners, and well wishes.
One good thing that came from the war the Peace Dollar, designed by sculptor Anthony de Francisci, the most beautiful coin ever minted by the USA. Lady Liberty is modeled on de Francisci’s lovely Italian-born wife Teresa. Unlike other US coins, its eagle is perched, resting, and minding its own affairs. Now there’s an ideal to live by.
For more information, see Wilson’s War by Jim Powell.
Wikipedia.org, http://history1900s.about.com, http://www.threeworldwars.com
Photograph of Peace Dollar is from coinpage.com