Why I Don’t Celebrate Veterans Day

My reasons have nothing to do with veterans. I respect people who take risks for what they believe in, period. I may oppose those same people bitterly, but keeping who they are and what their virtues are in mind makes me both a better opponent and a better human.

So what are my reasons? There are two and they are related.

The first is that with the end of Armistice Day, we have no day to celebrate the end of war–any war. That was the original intent of Armistice Day, which I observe with a moment of silence at 11:11 (or as close to it as I can manage) every 11/11.

Neither do we have a day to celebrate peace, nor a day to mourn all the war dead. I don’t find the death of a civilian killed in saturation bombing of a city any less regrettable than the death of the solider who dropped that bomb then was shot from the air.

The second is that this change came during the McCarthy era, at the same time coinage lost E Pluribus Unum (United We Stand) for the sad trade of In God We Trust, and the Pledge of Allegiance gained the divisive phrase “under God” before “indivisible”.

The meaning of Veterans Day, and Armistice Day before it, had long been contested. Here’s an example:

On that same Armistice Day in 1919, an American Legion parade in Centralia, Washington, the heart of lumber country and long running labor strife, broke ranks on a pre-arranged signal and attacked the local hall of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Wobblies in the hall opened fire in self defense as the Legionaries tried to charge up the stairs.  Four Legionaries were killed in the attack and several others were wounded inside the hall in a confusing melee before most of the union men were disarmed.  Wesley Everest, himself a veteran and in uniform, escaped although wounded and was chased down to the river where he shot two or more of his pursuers before being overwhelmed.

That night a mob of Legionaries, with the complicity of authorities, seized the wounded Everest from his jail cell, dragged him behind an automobile, castrated him, and hung him from a railroad bridge.  Several IWW members including those captured in the hall and others tracked down by posses in a massive man hunt were put on trial.  Eight Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to long prison terms.  No Legionnaires were charged in the initial assault.

That just sticks in my craw. Where is the Grand Army of the Republic when you need them, anyway? Perhaps I digress.

So if you are reading this and you are a veteran, please take no offense at my non-celebration of the holiday. It’s not about you and it’s not about what you did. If you fought bravely for any cause, I respect your personal virtues. But it’s time for a peace holiday.

The prerequisite to peace, of course, is justice. And so:

Let us not break faith with those who have died in defense of human rights, human dignity, human life.

May we recognize the grief that flows in and among us today
and may we keep the faith.

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