It was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 that World War I was halted as a result of the signing of the armistice between the Allied Nations and Germany. In the years to follow, people from around the world have stopped what they were doing at 11:00 AM local time on November 11th in silent rememberance of the point in time when what’s been known as the “War to end all wars” that took the lives of tens of millions of people came to an end. In other commemorations of that peaceful pledge begun on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918, bells have been rung from around the world on November 11th.
On May 13, 1938, the U.S. Congress passed a law that made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.” However, the name ‘Armistice Day’ was later changed to ‘Veterans Day’ via an act of Congress and signed into law on June 1, 1954.
American novelist and World War II veteran Kurt Vonnegut wrote about his war experiences and in particular his time as an American prisoner of war surviving the horrific fire-bombing of the German city of Dresden in his famous novel “Slaughterhouse-Five”. Years later, Vonnegut reflected on the U.S. government’s changing the official recognition of November 11th from ‘Armistice Day’ to ‘Veterans Day’ in the following way:
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called ‘Armistice Day’. 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 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.
Some members of Veteran For Peace feel that the substitution of the word ‘Armistice’ with ‘Veterans’ politicized the day by changing the focus from peace to war in its celebrating and honoring military veterans and the wars they served in. Too often rhetoric and patriotic symbols are used instead of genuine compensation for the extraordinary sacrifices and services of military personnel.
Many feel that the ringing of bells is a much more fitting recognition of the pledge for peace agreed to on that morning in November of 1918 when the ‘Voice of God’ was heard. Sadly, gun salutes and fighter plane flyovers have been used as the norm in more recent years to mark that sacred day. However, at the urging of the Twin Cities chapter of Veterans For Peace, on November 11th of last year dozens of Minnesota churches joined in ringing bells along with urging their congregations to work for peace.
Phil Restino, Central Florida Veterans For Peace