2011-11-11

November 11: Armistice Day

Eleven! Eleven! Eleven!

It's a day we call Veterans Day. It began as Armistice Day -- commemorating the armistice that ended World War I on 1918 November 11. Armistice: A cessation of hostilities as a prelude to peace negotiations. On the first anniversary of the WWI armistice (1919 Nov 11), President Woodrow Wilson announced:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."
Notice the double purpose of Armistice Day: (1) to honor the veterans, and (2) to show our "sympathy with peace and justice."

World War I was thought -- hoped -- to be the "war that ends all wars." No such luck, it turned out. Still, the idea of ending war, of governing our world nonviolently, of spreading peace and justice across the globe should not be forgotten.

In 1954, the US government changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. The motive to honor all veterans, not just the World War I vets, was nice. But in the process, the other function of Armistice Day was lopped off. Attention was diverted away from "armistice" -- the laying down of arms, the ending of hostilities, the commitment to peace.

The hopes that lifted the hearts of North Americans and Europeans 93 years ago at the end of WWI may have seemed, by the 1950s, sadly deluded -- perhaps even a cruel hoax. The US had been through the carnage of WWII, and then embroiled itself in a Korean War for three years. The notion of ending all war seemed hopeless and unrealistic. The attitude was: war is going to go on, and on, for as far into the future as imaginable -- so let's just commemorate the courageous ones who fight our wars for us.

The building of peace is much tougher than many Americans in 1918 knew -- the skills of peacemaking require much more development. But the task of peace and justice (for no peace will be lasting, or worthy, without justice) should not be abandoned. Unitarian Universalists committed to that task with a 2010 Statement of Conscience, "Creating Peace." On this November 11, please re-read and re-commit to that statement -- click here.

So today I am celebrating Armistice Day. I honor the fire of youth -- the energy, the camaraderie, the commitment to a cause, the way they can fling themselves so passionately into harm's way. I acknowledge that it has been a while since our country has actually deployed that fire to protect the freedom of US residents, but I honor the effort and training and bravery that our veterans have displayed nevertheless. I also take this day to recommit to armistice; to lay down all instruments of violence; to promise again to myself and my world to forego thoughts, words, and deeds that treat a being as an object or diminish any being's sense of value or security; to truly walk the path of nonviolence.

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It's November 11, it's 1918, it's Armistice Day, and I,
I would have no arms.
I would have no legs.
I would live in Europe, Asia, America, south and north, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and all the wide deep blacken blue oceans.
I would have no Western front.
I would name myself Peace Among the Nations.
Finally undisappointable,
Hanging over the beleaguered of nations like a happy gracious fog, I would
Penetrate everywhere.
I would weigh you down with uplifting serenity.
I would double you four times, Woodrow Wilson World War.
All ate of you, consumed by love, would have a thousand arms each reaching and embracing every dying soldier every wailing mother every broken-legged horse, enfolding them in doesn't-change-a-thing compassion.
I would have no arms.
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