by Thad Crouch
In many nations, Armistice Day still commemorates the end of WWI on November 11th, 1918, as a day to remember a body count on a scale hitherto undreamt of at the time and a day to promote international peace.
The 1926 U.S. Congressional Armistice Day resolution begins like this:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far-reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the…anniversary…perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations; . . . .
When America remembered Armistice Day as if life matters, it inspired a 1920s peace movement so pervasive that it even included bankers and the American Legion. Instead of waiting for the ideal president or senate, trans-partisan activists got all four major political parties into the movement, and by 1929 the U.S. was among sixty-two nations that signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing aggressive war! The “war to end all wars” became an international call for peace to end all wars. While the pact was not applied to stop WWII, it was used to prosecute Nazis for starting it and is still on the books.
The U.S. replaced Armistice Day with Veterans Day, and over time its meaning changed. The Department of Veterans Affairs describes Veterans Day as
A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
Remembrance of veteran deaths was further removed from Armistice Day to Memorial Day, which is historically rooted in the remembrance of Americans killing each other for economic reasons related to race-based slavery of other Americans. Armed Forces Day's wording suggests that our military is vital to security and peace. The honestly-named War Department became the Department of Defense.
“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend.” Legend became a myth of war as both glorious and for the common good. And for many years, the global call for peace to end all wars and the law against aggressive war faded out of common knowledge.
Experience as a WWI combat veteran influenced J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The saga rejects the desire for power to dominate others because it dehumanizes both those dominated and those who seek such power. Peace-loving Hobbits unsuited for war are the surprising heroes. The weapon of power burdens Frodo, whose wound seemingly never heals; his experience is similar to moral injury, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), and Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress (P.I.T.S.).
It’s easily seen that Armistice Day respects human life and dignity far more than the modern Veterans Day. Imagine, for a moment, that the U.S. changed International Women's Day to “Abortion Workers Day,” with parades to honor America's abortion workers for their patriotism and willingness to serve for the common good of women’s equal access to education, jobs, and political office.
The omission of abortion violence and deaths would be glaring. So is the assumption that those deaths are necessary or justified for equal access to education, jobs, and political office. Pro-lifers know that there are life-affirming alternatives to abortion, like adoption. We know that there are ways to organize relationships, communities, and societies to provide new mothers access to opportunities. We are willing to sacrifice and serve life by delaying some opportunities because we recognize that killing someone takes away ALL their rights and opportunities.
Reclaiming Armistice Day allows us to be honest about military violence, deaths, and the harms done to civilian and veteran survivors. Reclaiming Armistice Day promotes radical inclusivity of human dignity, beyond the limits of patriotism, to an international level that rehumanizes foreign civilians and enemy troops as possible allies in the struggle for peace — a struggle that aims to respect life.
Modern Veterans Day normalizes violence. Reclaiming Armistice Day honors veterans by acknowledging the reality of war and our wounds. While it’s true that most of us veterans have a willingness to sacrifice and serve the common good, it is also true that most abortion workers believe they serve the common good. “But they were all of them deceived.”
Both war and abortion are unsafe for millions. Both armed violence and abortion violence are not rare. Even though war and abortion can be used to achieve some peoples’ goals — by taking others’ lives — there are better, nonviolent alternatives to both. Abortion workers and post-abortive parents also suffer P.I.T.S., just like many veterans.
I was once a soldier. Now, the more I study U.S. war in context of facts and objectives, the more I see wars are avoidable aggressive violence — even WWII! Further, the high quantity and percentages of defenseless civilian deaths in modern warfare even led Pope Benedict XVI to question whether Just War still exists.
Sonder the life situation of this Iraqi Catholic school girl when she asked U.S. activists to tell American children to ask their parents to ask Bill Clinton to stop bombing Iraqi children. After speaking, she sat and cried with her head on her desk.
Despite theories that justify hypothetical wars, actual war is not justified. Often, the reasons given to justify war are lies; it’s never treated as a last resort, it avoids nonviolent solutions that are twice as likely to succeed, and it kills many civilians even if we say we’re fighting a Hitler, Milosevic, or Bin Laden.
Even if war could be just, truly respecting life from womb to tomb should lead us to make aggressive war rare and illegal because troop lives matter, foreign lives matter, and an effective nonviolent global security system based on a culture of life and peace is far safer. Respecting life requires a preferential option for nonviolence in which peacemaking and peace-building replace debates about just or necessary war. Peacemaking and peace-building go beyond protecting life without violence. Peacemaking respects human dignity by honestly resolving conflicts, restoring justice, reconciling relationships, promoting solidarity, and healing inner conflict by cultivating empathy and forgiveness.
The pro-life movement works to protect life by making abortion illegal; it also works to make abortion unthinkable by creating a culture of life, which supports women in crisis pregnancies with community support systems and effective policies for child support, health care, and paid family and sick leave. We say “love them both” in regards to unborn children and their mothers. We have organizations that help abortion workers heal from P.I.T.S. and get nonviolent jobs. Because peace is pro-life, I believe that our efforts towards a culture of life should also include abolishing nukes, creating a global security system, healing veterans, assisting war refugees, and promoting organizations like the G.I. Rights Hotline that support our troops by building a culture of conscience and peace. At the very least, we can educate ourselves to avoid perpetuating myths about war or normalizing violence.
Peace activism might not be for everyone — especially for those already committing time, talent, and treasure to other life and justice activism — but everyone can contribute in some small way to further the cause.
One very easy way is to do that is to say “Happy” or “Peaceful Armistice Day,” to post #ReclaimArmisticeDay on social media, or to attend a virtual event with either World BEYOND War or Veterans For Peace. Both organizations offer easy ways to Reclaim Armistice Day this week and propose ambitious suggestions for 2021 to truly support troops, honor veterans, and most importantly, create a culture of life.