Bells will be rung this Saturday to observe Armistice Day.
World War I, the “War to End All Wars,” was a worldwide conflagration that ended with an armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the guns fell silent after four years of continuous warfare that killed or wounded more than 30 million people, including more than 320,000 Americans. The thunder of guns was replaced by the sound of bells ringing in celebration of peace. The silencing of the guns was made a federal holiday in 1938, when Congress designated Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, a day “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
In 1954, President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day by presidential proclamation, admonishing us to “reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
When I was young, we did not celebrate Veterans Day — we observed Armistice Day, the international day of peace. At mid-morning, the stores and businesses would close and we would gather for a memorial service at the local American Legion hall. Veterans stood while the names of their dead comrades were read. The clergy offered prayers for peace. We wore small red poppies made of thin paper by veterans in VA hospitals to remind us of the rows upon rows of tombstones. At 11 a.m. all the church bells pealed out in celebration of peace.
We are at a point in time, a junction, where we have deliberately not known peace for 16 years. We have an entire generation of children who have grown up knowing war, and some of them are now serving in the military fighting the same war that their fathers fought in. We should take some time to consider the costs of living in a state of perpetual war.
The world faces a critical moment. Tensions are heightened around the world and the U.S. is engaged militarily in multiple countries, without an end in sight. We currently have an administration that has repeatedly threatened to attack North Korea, which has responded with its own threats while testing long-range missiles and nuclear bombs. Twitter confrontations and saber rattling have only served to escalate tensions. The use of conventional weapons in war results in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Millions will die if there is a nuclear exchange. Such horrific acts of violence can spread like a virus and easily lead to further global instability and a new, final world war. It is time for us to stop reckless rhetoric and military interventions that endanger the entire world.
Here at home we see the increasing militarization of our police forces and brutal crackdowns on dissent and people’s uprisings against state power. In a political arena fueled by division, hate and fear, the conversation of peace is conspicuously missing from almost every interaction. This rise of hate and fear at home and around the world makes it as urgent as ever to ring the bells of peace. It is time to remember how Armistice Day, the international day of peace, was intended to be observed.
This Armistice Day, Veterans for Peace calls on everyone to say no to more war and to demand justice and peace, at home and abroad. It is time to end reckless military interventions that endanger the entire world. It is time to build a culture of peace. Remember the veteran, but work towards peace, so that their sacrifices should not be needed again.
The Juneau Chapter of Veterans for Peace will observe Armistice Day by ringing the bell in front of the Alaska State Capitol at 11:11 a.m. on Saturday. We invite the community to attend. We would also be grateful if other bells in the community were rung at the same time.
• Craig Wilson is a member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 100 in Juneau. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.