Saturday, November 11, 2023

11/11: 11 a.m.

Eleventh of November.  Eleven in the morning. 1918.  That's when the armistice ending the fighting in the War to End All Wars went into effect. Not the end of the war.  That wouldn't come until the Treaty of Versailles, more than seven months later, on June 28, 1919.  So not the end of the war, but the end of the killing.  No small thing that.

Eleventh of November.  Eleven in the morning. 1919.  Five and a half months after the treaty, but one year to the minute after the armistice took effect. One year to the minute after the end of the killing.  That's when King George V declared Armistice Day and called for two minutes of silence.   We celebrated that day on this side of the pond, too.

A day to remember the dead certainly.  But as the name Armistice Day connotes, it's a day to celebrate peace.

Or, it was.

Because, as Karen Zraick explained in yesterday's Times, "In 1953, Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kan., proposed changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day, to recognize veterans from all wars and conflicts."

And so it would be.  We no longer celebrate Arfmistice Day on November 11.  We give November 11 to honor the vets: Veterans Day.

As Zraick points out, Memorial Day is to recognize those who died.  Veterans Day is for them too, but equally for the all the rest.

But what of the Armistice? What of the peace - not the peace of desolation, of the desert,* of John McCrae's graves amid the poppies,** but the peace of quiet of calm.  The peace we'd vainly hoped would come after the War to End All Wars.  Or the next one.  Or the one after that.  The peace where we say, collectively, universally,


I really am all for Veterans Day.  They deserve it.  But damn, we sure as hell need to get Armistice Day back.


*From Tacitus we take the sometime truism, "They make a desolation [sometimes translated as "desert"] and call it peace."  Though it's perhaps worth noting that Tacitus himself was quoting Calgus who was referring to the Romans.  


In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' Fields.

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