By Mike Ferner
At the stroke of the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the roaring guns fell silent. Our holiday that marks the end of “The Great War” is now called Veterans’ Day, yet it’s worth taking a moment to recollect when it was called Armistice Day and meant more than midnight madness sales at department stores.
Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded and another 7 million were taken captive in that war. Never before had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter. Congress responded to a universal hope among Americans that such a war would never happen again by passing a resolution calling for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding…inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.” Later, Congress added that November 11 was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
While it is a good thing to honor the country’s military service veterans, the original intent of Armistice Day promoting peace has gotten lost over the years. One veterans’ organization is trying to recreate that original intent. Its name, appropriately enough, is Veterans For Peace.
Of the many veterans’ organizations in the U.S., Veterans For Peace (VFP) exists specifically to carry out the original purpose of Armistice Day. With 120 chapters across the country, the St. Louis-based organization has as its chief goal “to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.”
Founded in 1985 at the height of the Reagan administration’s support for the “contras” in Nicaragua and death squads elsewhere in Central America, VFP includes men and women veterans of all eras and wars cold or hot from World War II through the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the things of which the organization is most proud is helping form Iraq Veterans Against the War in the summer of 2004, but Elliott Adams, VFP’s president and a former paratrooper who served in Vietnam, will quickly tell you they are not interested in repeating that accomplishment. “I’ll be happy if this generation of veterans is the last,” he says.
Having seen the reality of war and understanding its true cost, VFP members will tell you that war is not the answer. However, coming to that conclusion is as much a spiritual journey as a political one, they acknowledge, because making peace in your heart can sometimes be as difficult as making peace in the world.
One of the simple truths on which Veterans For Peace is founded states, “Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop.” With a weary nod of the head the doughboys of WWI, shivering in the soggy, rotten trenches of Europe in November 1918, would surely have agreed.
Ferner is a National Board Member of Veterans For Peace and author of “Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq.”