President Wilson’s words at the commemoration of the first Armistice Day in 1919 ring true to this day: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” Germany and the allied nations signed a peace treaty known as the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I on November 11th. That day was declared a day to not only remember World War I veterans, but to observe and maintain world peace as well.
Armistice Day gave birth to Veteran’s Day in 1954. Though many hoped and even proclaimed that World War I would be “the end of all wars,” World War II followed and brought that hope to a tragic end. Furthermore, a great number of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and several other military personnel were deployed for this war, leading the 83rd Congress to replace the word “Armistice” with “Veterans” to honor veterans of all wars.
Veteran’s Day is often easily confused with Memorial Day. While Veteran’s Day is a day to honor the living veterans of all wars, Memorial Day was established a year after the Civil War to honor those who fell in active duty. Both holidays are celebrated in a similar way and can even be interchangeable, but what they each stand for possesses distinct uniqueness. Moreover, Veteran’s Day honors men and women who have served in the military, regardless of whether it was in combat or not. Several people go out of their way to celebrate Veteran’s Day; from decorations and gatherings, to free goods and services for veterans, there are many ways people choose to express their gratitude and appreciation.
Most people agree that war is brutal and ugly, but when a nation is faced with the question “why are we going to war?” the answers vary, which makes it a rather controversial topic that garners some serious reactions from people across the political spectrum. Though Veteran’s Day is a national holiday, those who served aren’t always treated with the honor and respect they deserve. For instance, veterans of the Vietnam War were not fortunate enough to get a festive reception. This was due to the fact that the US neither had an objective or declared war beforehand, which caused the rise of an extremely contentious political climate during the war.
Students on university campuses and in the academic society started an anti-Vietnam War movement; soon, protests became more prominent and drew people’s attention to the reality of the war. When the soldiers that fought in the Vietnam War returned home, they didn’t get a hero’s welcome. Several veterans testified about being mistreated, insulted, and in some cases, assaulted. Another war that was ethically, morally, and politically controversial was the Iraq War. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq due to their alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” an idea that was not clearly verified. Both wars took so many lives and nearly destroyed nations for reasons that are not clear to this day, which is why many felt the need to protest and oppose.
Some might begin to wonder if there is an instance where one should or shouldn’t honor a veteran. Most of the people that decide to either protest or refrain from celebrating holidays like Veteran’s Day have probably wondered the same thing as well. The answer to the question depends on the individual, but there are some factors we can consider to help guide us towards it. Sometimes, men and women in armed forces can decided whether or not they wish to serve; however, like in the Vietnam War, many had no choice but to serve and were simply following orders from their superiors. Therefore, despising them and blaming them for everything doesn’t change the situation.
Everyone has the right to agree or disagree with the government’s decisions on wars, and they have the freedom of speech to express that too. However, political criticism should be the last thing veterans get considering the several challenges they face that are often unique to their circumstances and background as former military personnel. On Veteran’s Day, the focus should be on the bravery and will of the human spirit displayed through ordinary men and women who exhibit extraordinary courage. The least we can do is to put our politics aside, take time out of our day to give back, and help make them feel appreciated.
Written by Kenean
Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. “Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.” Learn to Communicate Assertively at Work, 20 Mar. 2006, www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp.
IowaPublicTelevision. “Experiences of Vietnam Veterans Returning Home from War.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Oct. 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6t9jchhVRg.