Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Veterans Day and a little history
First, a hearty "thank you" goes out to all who have served in the armed forces of the United States. I hope everyone pauses to remember that without the sacrifice of the veterans and their families, we would not enjoy the freedoms we have today.
That said, it is fitting to note that this is the 90th anniversary of the date of November 11th being celebrated on the calender in the United States and Europe.
The day was originally called Armistice Day, in honor of the cease fire signed at the end of World War I that ended hostilities on the ground at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. After World War II, the day became known as Veteran's Day in the United States and honored all veterans.
As we are at what will likely be the last landmark anniversary of the date with any surviving veterans of World War I, it is again fitting to look at that war and what those veterans went through.
First, according the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, there are only four known living veterans of World War I in the United States. They are John Babcock, 102, from Puget Sound, Wash.; Frank Buckles, 106, Charles Town, W.Va.; Russell Coffey, 108, North Baltimore, Ohio; and Harry Landis, 107, Sun City Center, Fla. That appears to be the only living witnesses to World War I in the United States.
In today's times, we tend to forget the horrors of the past. World War I created more carnage than humanity had ever seen at the time. Not even the American Civil War could rival the carnage. World War I was a stalemate that created trench warfare, the use of the airplane in war, the use of the tank in war, and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, it was the use of the later, primarily in the form of mustard gas, that made the world almost united against the use of chemical weapons.
The issue was not decided until a reluctant United States entered the war on the side of Great Britain and France against Germany and the Central Powers. Though only on the fields for a little over a year, American forces made a big difference at the cost of lives, limbs, and an innocence forever lost by so many of its young men.
Then President Woodrow Wilson made the decision to enter the war based on his belief that it was necessary to make the world safe for democracy. The American public was not fully behind the war and were certainly not behind whatever measures Wilson thought necessary to make a lasting peace. Wilson so passionately believed in his ideals that he steamed to Europe on a ship and spent six months in France negotiating a treaty that he thought would bring peace. The problem he faced was a at home. Still filled with his zeal, Wilson barnstormed the country until he was stricken by a major stroke in Pueblo, Colorado on his speaking tour.
Isolationists in both parties seized upon Wilson's weakness and the United States never verified the treaties, such as joining the League of Nations, that Wilson thought American men died for. The American men who did come home came home to an economy in recession and to a flu epidemic. Most of them came home to no job, no parties, and someone in their family being sick.
America and Western Europe were tired of war. A great wave of pacifism swept over them. They were angry and they were disillusioned. In America, it resulted in the one of the most corrupt Presidents of the United States ever to be elected in Warren G. Harding. Harding was elected simply because he was against outgoing President Wilson. The isolationist mood in America would lead to the depleting of the national defense, the Great Depression, the rise of the Soviet Union and the rise of Nazi Germany. Even the men who fought and survived World War I would be denied their war bonuses and be forced to march on Washington demanding such, only to be put down at the orders of President Hoover.
I offer that bit of history to remind people that things are not as bad in the United States today as they have been. There are a lot of people who espouse doom and gloom for the United States today, on the right and the left. There are people who say that our veterans fought for nothing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who espouse that are simply ignorant of history and are quick to stoke fear in the hearts of Americans.
It is clear that the United States faces big challenges. However, the United States and her veterans have faced bigger challenges. If you want to honor our veterans, be sure to thank one that you know for his or her service, and also be sure to not go knocked kneed in supporting both our outgoing and incoming Presidents as they work for a long lasting peace to end the wars we are now involved in. Let's honor those four old gentlemen from World War I by not being as isolationist and afraid as the public of 1919 was about the world.
I have said before in this space that I envy no one. Well, that is not true. I envy the men and women who have served this nation in the armed services. Those men and women have an honor that no words written can ever match. I am humbled by their service. I thank each and everyone of you.