Opinion: The list of those we honor on Veterans Day grows ever longer

Four WWII veterans, who are residents at Whitney Center, gathered to speak about their time in the military ahead of Veterans Day in Hamden, Conn., on Wednesday November 9, 2022.

Four WWII veterans, who are residents at Whitney Center, gathered to speak about their time in the military ahead of Veterans Day in Hamden, Conn., on Wednesday November 9, 2022.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

History books tell us that on Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the nation with these words: “A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and more just set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force…”

The armistice the president referred to brought an end to WWI, which was popularly referred to as “the War to end all Wars.” It took until June 4, 1926, for Congress to adopt a resolution requesting President Calvin Coolidge to issue annual proclamations calling for the observance of Nov. 11 with appropriate ceremonies. Ironically, a congressional act making Nov. 11 each year a legal holiday to “be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’” was finally approved on May 13, 1938, just as Hitler was laying his infamous groundwork that would lead to WWII.

The idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who had paid the ultimate price with their lives, came from Raymond Weeks, a WWII veteran from Alabama. President Eisenhower agreed and signed it into law on May 26, 1954. Congress amended the bill on June 1, 1954, replacing Armistice with Veterans, establishing Veterans Day as a national holiday.

Meanwhile, the number of those we “celebrate” on Nov. 11 keeps rising. There was the Korean Conflict from 1950 to 1953; the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1975; the war in Afghanistan, 2001 to 2021; the Iraq invasion in 2003. According to unidentified U.S. officials there are currently about 900 American soldiers deployed in Syria giving advice and support to local forces. Reports of onsite U.S. intelligence and other support inside Ukraine are persistent but unconfirmed.

Over time, wars invariably lead to follow-up conflicts between the former losers and winners. Military manpower and weapons, no matter how advanced, have never provided a permanent solution to human conflicts. They just increase the number of “celebrants” on Nov. 11.

But what is a celebration without joy, and how can there be joy in the Veterans Day celebration? Think what we could do with all the money spent on fighting wars. We could use the immense brain power of our scientists and engineers to improve education, eliminate homelessness, find solutions for more diseases, deal with climate change and thereby save our planet and the human race from its looming extinction.

A pipe dream, of course. But wouldn’t it be nice if more world leaders thought along those lines?

Elisabeth Breslav is a regular essay writer for the Oronoque, Stratford Villager magazine.