by Greg Zwahlen

I don’t mean to take anything away from U.S. war veterans, but I think this quote from Kurt Vonnegut (in Breakfast of Champions) is apt this morning:

When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

Over at the Fayette County News, Trey Alverson published an insightful reflection on that passage:

An outspoken humanist and anti-war activist, Vonnegut spent much of his life trying to appeal to the better parts of our nature. Like so many other 20th century occurrences, the establishment of Veterans Day disappointed him. A holiday dedicated to peace and those who fought in the “War to End All Wars” was replaced by a holiday to honor a continually growing population of war veterans. The name ‘Veterans Day’ itself suggests that we will always have living war veterans to honor — that war will never be eradicated. 

On Veterans Day 2009, we find ourselves at war again. 

Maybe it’s ok that Veterans Day is the quietest of our patriotic holidays. It gives us time to reflect and think about the profound sacrifices so many have made and are making for this country. On Wednesday, I’ll call and thank the veterans I know. 
If Vonnegut were still with us, he might remind our leaders that the best way to honor our war veterans is to stop creating new ones. 
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