Today is Veteran’s Day, November 11th.
I am a veteran, as is my father, and some few of my friends (very few).
From the end of World War I, until 1954, we celebrated this day as Armistice Day, as a remembrance of that moment in that first great-global conflict, when the fighting stopped along the lines, in the trenches, on the fronts, it stopped suddenly, stopped all at once, at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month; as if the war had a director who yelled “cut!” And all the actors on the stage, the pawns in the field, the people in their graves could get up from what they were doing and go home.
That is not what happened. Sixteen million people were killed in World War I, sixteen million families broken, with many millions more suffering in the aftermath.
World War I was perceived by those who endured it as so horrible that it was sure to be the war to end all wars, but that would not be the case.
The gods of war are busy.
The conflicts they sew never end.
Humans hunger and thirst for it.
Today is the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. He is the patron saint of soldiers, St. Martin of the Sword. He was the first Christian Soldier. It was in recognition of him, and his feast that this date was selected, to bring a halt to World War I.
It might have come sooner for the soldiers in the struggle, but the politicians acting like art directors wanted to wait for a symbolic moment.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was easy to remember.
Pope, Saint Gregory the Great, who gave us our calendar, penned Saint Martin’s hagiography. Though it is not likely that Martin ever even lived. Even if he did, his hagiography is a fiction, our celebration of Saint Martin, a piece of propaganda, and just another lie. It was a fable with a purpose, through it Pope Gregory gave permission to Christians to takes up arms.
He gave Christian soldiers leave to march to war.
The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…their will is our own. There is no god of war, there are only human pretenders.
In 1954, President Eisenhower, who had been the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, he changed the nature of the November 11th holiday. He changed it from Armistice Day, to Veteran’s Day, in honor of all Veterans who had fought in any conflict, anywhere in the world.
Friend or foe, ally or adversary, we celebrate the courage of the average person, woman or man, who was willing to risk everything, for their tribe, nation or clan.
That is what we celebrate today.
We do not celebrate the end of war, because wars never end.
We do not celebrate the fictional life of a fictional saint, whose usefulness as a propaganda tool suggested that it was possible to serve Jesus, with a sword, and the lie that peace could ever be the fruit of violence.
We celebrate the character of those who have had the courage to enlist, to risk their lives for the sake of their sisters and brothers, whether at home or beside them in the field.
The spirits of conflict have a will of their own…the children of Aries; Fear, Panic and Strife, they own us.
We are possessed.
We are still waging war all around the world, we the United States of America are waging war; in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Africa, arming rebels in Syria, selling weapons, and feeding other conflicts in every sector of the globe.
I served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, from 1990 – 1994.
I served during the first Gulf War, though I did not serve in that theatre where we killed 300,000 Iraqi people in the space of a few months.
My father served for twenty-two years; the first four as a Marine, and then eighteen in the Air Force. Our nation went to war only once during that time, in Vietnam, where my father served multiple tours of duty, and in which we killed 3,000,000 Vietnamese people.
We have killed millions more in many other nations in the decades since then.
Millions of families broken.
We are terrible, are profligate killers, Americans.
Every bullet we fire, every missile we launch, each of them is an admission of our failure as diplomats, as human beings.
Violence does not beget peace, it begets violence.
Only peace and reconciliation bring Peace.
Love one another; pay respect to the inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of your disagreements, regardless of the pain you are carrying from your past.
Commit yourself to meet conflict with love, respect all people, even your adversary, this is the thanks you can give to a Veteran today.