View Full Version : Veterans Day should be a time for gratitude

11-09-05, 07:36 AM
Veterans Day should be a time for gratitude
November 8, 2005
by Mike Bates

It was 87 years ago tomorrow that the guns were silenced. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, peace finally came. World War I was over.

President Wilson issued a statement: "The Armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example."

World War I was supposed to be the conflict that would end all wars. According to Mr. Wilson, its purpose was to make the world safe for democracy.

There had been more than a little irony involved. The president had narrowly won re-election in 1916 on the slogan, "He kept us out of war."

Some Americans were impatient to get into the combat that had been going on in Europe for years. There was lingering resentment because 124 Americans had died in 1915 when a German torpedo sank the luxury liner Lusitania.

It made little difference that the German embassy had placed newspaper ads warning that "travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk." Years later it was disclosed the Lusitania had munitions aboard, just as the Germans had claimed.

Other Americans wished to maintain a strict neutrality. They subscribed to the view of George Washington and the other Founders who counseled nonintervention in foreign conflicts. In his final statement to the American people, he maintained:

"The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. . . . therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics. . ."

But when the U.S. officially entered the war, personal feelings were set aside. Huge numbers of war bonds were purchased, food and fuel were more or less voluntarily rationed and citizens worked to keep war-related factories running 24 hours a day.

More than two million American "doughboys" went off to Europe. The initial exhilaration quickly wore off.

Reality was grimy combat in trenches and exploding grenades and chemical warfare. Over 53,000 died in combat.

Today, only a few dozen World War I veterans survive. Armistice Day was declared by President Wilson to honor the dead of what was then known as "The Great War." In the 1950s, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor all those who have honorably served at anytime.

When I was young, older folks often referred to Veterans Day as Armistice Day. They were often the same people who called Memorial Day, which was established as a tribute to those who died in battle, by its earlier name of Decoration Day.

In the years since the first Armistice Day, Americans have been deployed in military actions in many places around the world. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen – and now some women - have died in wars. All who have served, no matter in what capacity, have given up a considerable portion of their lives, their comfort, and their safety.

As in World War I, there is always divided public opinion on the question of going to war. Most armed conflicts aren't as unambiguous as the Revolutionary War. Even then we had Tories among us who remained loyal to King George.

One thing remains constant. When the decision is made to get into a fight, young Americans rise to the occasion. They come from the farm and the city and the suburbs. They’re blue collar and white collar and no collar. They’re rich and poor, but mostly somewhere in-between. They come from all races and faiths.

They put their lives and futures on the line because we, through our elected representatives, expect them to.

Some volunteer. Others are drafted. Either way, they are accepting the most demanding responsibility of citizenship.

It’s always been that way. If you see or speak with any veterans tomorrow, thank them for the sacrifices they made. For the freedoms we still have. And for the patriotism they have kept alive.
Mike Bates