Veterans of war, veterans of diplomacy, veterans of peace. Shall we honor them all?
On Veterans Day, we pause in remembrance of those who have proudly served our country in the U.S. military. Originally known as “Armistice Day,” November 11 was chosen to annually memorialize the cessation of hostilities between the Allied powers and Germany ending World War I, which was then regarded as “the war to end all wars.”
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first commemoration of what would become an official national holiday with the words:
“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…”
Individuals and groups who stand up and put their lives on the line to defend the country from very real threats to our national security, as do those in our nation’s military, are true patriots. But true patriots are also those who speak out, stand up, and challenge our governmental leaders, those who put their lives on the line by actively advocating for justice, freedom, and liberty through peaceful means.
I, therefore, believe that as we honor our military veterans, that we also remember as well the diplomats and the mediators, those working in conflict resolution and civil and human rights, the activists dedicated to preventing wars and to bringing existing wars to diplomatic resolution once hostilities have begun, the individuals of conscience who refuse to give over their minds, their souls, and their bodies to armed conflict, the practitioners of non-violent resistance in the face of tyranny and oppression, the anti-war activists who strive to educate their peers, their citizenry, and, yes, their government to the perils of unjustified and unjust armed conflict and incursions into lands not their own in advance of appropriate attempts at diplomatic means of resolving conflict.
Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war.
I find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when one advocates for peaceful means of resolving conflict, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our brave and courageous troops out of harm’s way and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely.
On Veterans Day, let us expand our definition of “patriot” and “veteran” while we remember and honor all those serving our country.