Remembrance of 11th hour of 11th day of 11th month
Veterans Day is observed in the United States on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was formerly known as Armistice Day and given its new name in 1954 at the end of the Korean War to honor all veterans. Veterans Day is observed with memorial ceremonies, salutes at military cemeteries, parades, and the wearing of poppies.
This day was originally named Remembrance Day along with a separate Remembrance Sunday by the Commonwealth. To be in London for their celebration of those two days, for me, lives in memory. An ocean of poppies abound, church bells ring, and the atmosphere is somber with thanks.
For the older veterans presently living in the Lewes area, throughout their 20th century military service and most of their civilian lives, they were actively involved with the containment of communism. And, it was for good reason. Communism killed over 100,000,000 men, women and children, not to mention the near 30,000,000 of its subjects who died in its often-aggressive wars and the rebellions it provoked. Communism was the great and evil story of the 20th century and at its zenith ruled a third of mankind. It seemed poised to spread indefinitely, and then it collapsed like a house of cards. It had violated one of the basic tenets of civilization, “Thou shalt not kill.”
The opening of the 21st century has created a new generation of veterans who are fighting a new set of people who are violating this same tenet of civilized people, “Thou shall not kill.” After the collapse of communism, many opined that the newly established world order would be forever peaceful. What could take its place to create another worldwide international conflict? “The Invention of Peace” by Michael Howard was published in 2000, where Howard’s last thoughts in his essay are, “...although it is tempting to believe ...a new and stable world order will come into being, we would be unwise to expect anything of the kind.”
Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, came a direct attack upon our soil, and our country entered into a worldwide conflict against Islamic/fascist terrorism. As yet, we do not know where it will ultimately lead; we just know that we are up against an implacable enemy dedicated to the destruction of our way of life and that a new generation of veterans has engaged upon our country’s behalf. Public affirmation of our current volunteer military consistently measures near the 95 percent level, and that is higher than any of our other national institutions. Veterans are America’s best friends.
American veterans have been bearing the brunt of many conflicts since before the Revolutionary War, and all had a continuous ongoing and outpouring of brotherly love for one another and their units. That is now continuing for the new generation and poses an interesting but central question, “Why?” But, it is so complex and misunderstood that we have to look into antiquity to understand it. So, here is the complex answer, and after hearing it one may want to revert to the simpler. It is equally true.
The reasons, in my opinion, for our closeness as military veterans throughout our history revolve about two concepts: one important to the nation and the other important to those who served the nation in uniform.
The former, importance to the nation, is the common-sense observation that escapes many of our citizens and political bodies of the country: that military organizations exist to win wars. Winning the nation’s wars is the military’s functional imperative. In fact, it is the only reason for a liberal society to maintain standing armies. Veterans were personally a part of that important national organization dedicated to preserving freedom and protecting our citizens. They were proud to be so and to do so. And, they remain so.
The latter, importance to the veterans, is traced to antiquity. Aristotle conceived it and the Greeks called it ”phillia.” It is broadly defined as ‘brotherly love’ and it is the glue of the military ethos, then and now. It is that bond formed among disparate individuals who may have nothing in common but facing the dangerous unknowns of military duty. Veterans constantly performed personal acts to help one another that were inherently good. That was the major critical factor for military success during some of our country’s most trying times.
“Phillia” exists to this day as the foundation for all military organizations throughout the world. The many reunions of veterans that take place every year are the result of an ethos first noted by the ancient Greeks. “Phillia” never leaves the individual, and the individual never leaves the military. That ethos, ‘brotherly love,’ remains to the last. It was the unselfish nature of service to the nation for each in the uniform of our country’s military forces that once again brings us together for celebration, Nov. 11, 2019, to embrace America’s exceptionalism.
Veterans Day is a time of remembrance that the older generation along with the newer generation commemorate with their families and friends. It is truly a day of deep thought as to the realities that created our nation as a democratic republic and how to protect it for our progeny. At the exact hour of 11 a.m., Nov. 11, many throughout our nation will be saluting our nation’s flag wearing remembrance poppies in honor of those who gave their last breath in securing the freedom that our living brethren so enjoy.
Veterans slowly fade away, as do all good citizen soldiers, with the knowledge that they helped secure a better and safer life for their families, the nation, and the world.
They were not heroes; they were just ordinary citizens from all walks of the American life dedicated to the preservation and the good will of their beloved country. Veterans and their families can stand proudly knowing that they did their duty and honored their country without rancor during some of its most troubled and dangerous times.
They ask: “What more could we have done?”
This lack of enduring peace leads to a more modern version of Thucydides’ (471 BC-400 BC) initial opining about Peace “... peace is an armistice in a war that is continually going on ...” to: That Peace is simply the interlude between wars; and, that peace is merely an invention of the West that is so complex it has been beyond humanity’s reach. Unfortunately, that has been the history of the world: War over peace is a sad but true recognition of reality. The only exception has been that democracies tend to choose Peace with one another, never War.
Richard L. Spencer, PhD, LtCol USAF Ret., resides in Lewes.