With the country having just memorialized those murdered at Fort Hood, and with our troops dying in increasing numbers in Afghanistan, and still dying in Iraq, it’s another sad Veterans Day. Still, here’s to all of those who have served, in wars past and present (including my next door neighbor, who returned not too long ago from his latest tour and is now enjoying civilian life.) To the old, and the young, the grizzled veterans and those just returning from war (and those still there) thank you and may God bless and keep you and your families.
Meanwhile, if you’re a history buff like me there’s more after the jump.
You may or may not know that Veterans Day (then called Armistice Day) was originally meant to specifically honor the troops who won World War I, which was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.” Clearly, it wasn’t even close. From the Veterans Affairs office:
World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “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…”
The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
And from the New York Times, something not at all trivial, but which should be remembered today:
Gen. Eric Shinseki was famously shunned by the Bush administration for daring to state the true costs of occupying Iraq. As President Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs, he is, thankfully, no less candid about the grinding problems veterans face at home. They lead the nation in depression, suicide, substance abuse and homelessness, according to data that Mr. Shineski is delivering in salvos in his current role.
About one-third of all adult homeless men are veterans, and an average night finds an estimated 131,000 of them from five decades bedding down on streets and in charity sanctuaries. About 3 in 100 of them are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem of homelessness for Vietnam veterans is, shamefully, well known. But the men and women in this growing cohort took just 18 months to find rock bottom, compared with the five years-plus of the previous generation’s veterans.
And last, bu not least, over at The Daily Beast, Retired Col. Ken Allard says, to avoid the next Fort Hood, we need to give our exhausted troops a break:
After eight continuous years of war, rebuilding that badly over-used Army is becoming an urgent national problem. It is important to tackle that problem somewhat more effectively than, say, the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
This president is a gifted communicator whose words brought welcome comfort. But before the pain fades and the nation inevitably turns its attention elsewhere: Are we missing some larger and infinitely more important lessons in the headlong rush toward the next news cycle? Those memorial services, occurring on the eve of Veterans Day, provide a twin incentive to ask more troubling questions: How long can you over-stress and over-use the best Army we have ever put in the field—but one that is thoroughly exhausted after eight continuous years at war? And exactly how long before lots of little things begin to go terribly wrong and those chickens start coming home to roost?
The Chinese strategist Sun Tzu famously said that there is no record of a long war prospering any kingdom—an ancient truth that needs no update. But you quickly jump from Marginal Strategy to Just Plain Stupid when you fight with a force far too small for whack-a-mole combat half a world away—and then do so indefinitely.