Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day

A continent exhausted by four years of one of the most costly wars in the history of man, found peace 88 years ago, today. The First World War, as it later became known, began like most wars; politicians underestimated and soldiers overestimated. But this war was a perfect storm of political entanglements, military miscalculations, and outdated battlefield doctrine fed into the meat grinder of advanced technology. It was the most horrible war Europe had ever seen. Americans had seen something that approached it in effect half a century before. The American War of Southern Seccession (not a true civil war--but that is grist for another post) had presaged many of the technologies and battlefield experiences (trench warfare, mass assaults against massed firepower, rail and telegraph communications; to name a few) that would mature in the maelstrom of misery on the killing fields of France.


An armistice between the warring parties took effect on the 11th of November 1918. America and its allies commemorated the date as Armistice Day for a couple of decades, until it became clear that the "war to end all wars" had done nothing of the sort. In fact, as has almost always happened in the history of man's wars, the First World War solved nothing, and in fact planted the seeds of conflict that would germinate into an even greater World War in less than a generation. Following that war, politicians eager to curry favor with the generation that fought it (I know, I'm feeling terribly cynical this morning), established the 11th of November as Veterans Day. As opposed to Memorial Day, a commemoration of the war dead that began as Decoration Day and was initiated by the fair ladies of Columbus, Mississippi at Friendship Cemetery in 1865 (yankees hate this and claim a northern town as the origin--grist for yet another post), Veterans Day was designed to honor the living veterans of America's wars.

It has always bothered me that Americans don't seem to understand the difference.
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