This year’s Veterans Day found me not only being thankful for all of our beloved veterans but also reflecting well beyond the usual parameters of the day.
As you might remember, Veterans Day (1954) grew out of what was once called Armistice Day (1919). According to President Wilson in 1919 (a hundred years ago this November), Armistice Day was to be a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for … the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
Notice from President Wilson’s speech that Armistice/Veterans Day is about soldiers and war, and it is also about peace and justice.
The evolution of war for our nation
It has been a long time since we have had a national mobilization to fight a war. Of course, we have still had wars — terrible, bloody wars such as Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq; and we have had heroes to fight them. But, in general, our country has been at peace regarding broad world wars for over 70 years, and nothing has happened within our shores, thankfully, with the exception of the events of 9/11, no small event, to be sure.
What we have been mainly doing is fighting other people’s wars, but that does not seem to bring the same recognition as fighting for the survival of one’s own home turf. And now with the totally volunteer military, these wars are delegated to a relative few brave souls from our overall population who have volunteered for service.
These wars for other countries also drag on like long-term business contracts that executives have drawn up and negotiated, and the volunteer military is then expected to execute. That raises the question: Why aren’t the executives doing the executing? The contracts might be different, if they were!
The politics of war
Another thing that is different nowadays is that politicians no longer have to be vets to get elected. That wasn’t the case in many years past.
For example, and at the risk of oversimplification, old Joe Kennedy knew that one requirement for becoming president was to have served in the military, preferably combat. Therefore, his sons (Joseph, John, Robert and even Ted) enlisted in the military with the oldest, Joseph, earmarked initially by the Kennedy family for the presidency.
When he was killed in action, the mantle was passed to John and later to Robert. Much later Ted even took a shot at the highest office in the land. They all were veterans, following in the legacy of many before them, including Harry Truman and General Dwight Eisenhower, and followed by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and both Bushes.
But, now, many well-intentioned politicians don’t have wars like WWI and WWII to serve in, world wars that consume the focus and energy of the whole nation. Of course, for that we are thankful. Those who aspire to high office now can still volunteer for the military, but the pressure to enlist and demonstrate military leadership as a credential for political office is not as pressing.
Might I be so bold as to say that at this point in the history of the United States, a politician needs to run on a different platform — winning the peace, rather than winning wars.
Winning the peace
Hopefully the future won’t be so much about winning wars. The new heroes might be those who can keep the world at peace through their negotiating skills and by creating a global interdependence among countries in terms of work, economics, environment and even sports.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could compete internationally with bats, racquets and clubs, instead of rifles, tanks and fighter planes; with balls and javelins, rather than bullets and bombs; with brains and technology, instead of brawn and primitive weaponry?
I suspect the heroes of winning the peace will come from many walks of life: politics, business, religion, health care, academia and yes, again, even sports. I’m reminded of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who together brought down the Berlin Wall through communication and relationship, not guns and bombs. Also, the giants of modern technology, who are bringing the world closer together with computers, phones, apps and media of all sorts.
Pope John Paul II freed Poland and helped bring down the Iron Curtain with his bravery, personality and holiness. Scientists have found causes and cures for diseases and shared them worldwide; environmentalists continue to try to save our planet (the whole planet, not just the United States); and globetrotting athletes draw cheers globally with their dazzling performances on the world stage.
We are forever thankful for our warrior veterans who have sacrificed so much to win the wars that make it possible for us to even think about winning the peace. And now going forward, let us look to a new wave of heroes, who are moving forward with giant strides off of the solid foundation that our soldiers built for America. Bring on those who would work hard, innovate, communicate and bring together people of all nations. Give us true statesmen who look beyond their own self-interest and strive for the survival of Planet Earth, winning the peace for everyone.