The long strug­gle for a proper Vet­er­ans Day ob­ser­vance

The orig­i­nal Ar­mistice Day revered an il­lu­sory peace un­til it sur­ren­dered to a trib­ute to he­roes of all wars

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Thomas V. DiBacco

The sin­gu­lar, un­for­tu­nate les­son em­a­nat­ing from Ar­mistice Day, which sig­naled the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, was the naivete of Amer­i­can lead­ers about the fu­ture of diplo­matic pol­icy to­ward the world. That pol­icy, in short, was premised on the same ir­ra­tional moral barom­e­ter that punc­tu­ated the 1920s in the United States, per­haps best il­lus­trated by Pro­hi­bi­tion. Treat diplo­macy like booze, in other words. Ab­stain from par­tic­i­pa­tion with the out­side world, ex­cept, of course, for fatu­ous goals.

Note, for ex­am­ple, the speech of Pres­i­dent War­ren Hard­ing on Ar­mistice Day 1921, the burial date for the na­tion’s Un­known Sol­dier at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. It was an ad­dress so praised for its sen­ti­ments — not re­al­ity — that As­so­ci­ated Press writer Kirke L. Simp­son won a Pulitzer Prize for his ac­count of the cer­e­monies: “The lofti­est trib­ute we can be­stow to­day,” said Hard­ing, “is the com­mit­ment of this repub­lic to an ad­vance­ment never made be­fore. ... [L]et us give of our in­flu­ence and strength, yea of our as­pi­ra­tion and con­vic­tions, to put mankind on a lit­tle higher plane, ex­ult­ing and ex­alt­ing, with war’s dis­tress­ing and de­press­ing tragedies barred from the stage of right­eous civ­i­liza­tion … .”

So Amer­i­can pol­icy was geared to — get this — urg­ing na­tions to agree to a pact out­law­ing war. A bou­tique group of na­tions — the United States, France, Great Bri­tain, Ja­pan, France, Italy, Bel­gium, Poland and Cze­choslo­vakia — signed on Aug. 27, 1928, what came to be known as the Kel­logg-Briand Pact, named af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Frank Kel­logg and French For­eign Min­is­ter Aris­tide Briand. It re­nounced war as an in­stru­ment of na­tional pol­icy — just words, no deeds. Quite in­ap­pro­pri­ately, Kel­logg was awarded the No­bel Peace Prize in 1929 for his ef­forts to bring about the agree­ment. In­ci­den­tally, all nine sig­na­to­ries be­came bel­liger­ents in World War II.

Even on June 4, 1926, when Congress or­dered the pres­i­dent to pro­claim each Novem­ber 11 as Ar­mistice Day, it did so through the same rose-col­ored glasses, call­ing it a “day of thanks­giv­ing and prayer and ex­er­cises to per­pet­u­ate peace through good will and mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween na­tions.” And as all hell was break­ing loose in Europe in 1938 when Ar­mistice Day was de­clared a fed­eral hol­i­day, Congress again buried its head in the sand, deem­ing it a day “not to be de­voted to the ex­al­ta­tion of glo­ries achieved in war but, rather, to an em­pha­sis upon those bless­ings which are as­so­ci­ated with … peace­time … .”

Not un­til 1954 was Ar­mistice Day changed to Vet­er­ans Day, thanks to the recog­ni­tion of mil­i­tary per­son­nel, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent (and for­mer gen­eral) Dwight D. Eisen­hower, who rec­og­nized that an ar­mistice in fight­ing scarcely meant peace. War al­ways meant sac­ri­fices, ca­su­al­ties and deaths of Amer­i­can troops.

ILLUSTRATION BY GREG GROESCH

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