Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nonviolent reclamation: Armistice Day

When Armistice Day was first declared it reflected a commemoration of the signing of an armistice, ending the shooting of World War I. It was the agreement to stop the fighting between Germany and the Allies and it was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

Like a kindergarten class abducted from the peace of an elementary school to be dazzled by the tools of hightech warcraft on a military base, we have all been subjected to the militarization of something which was peaceful--Armistice Day--and now exists to glorify war--Veterans Day.

This is how a peace culture becomes a war culture. Find the pieces that represent gentle transformation toward peace--e.g., the signing of a peace accord--and transmogrify that to a great honor and adulation for those who invade and occupy someone else's land in the name of empire behind the banner of lies. The violent warrior may lose his life but if we can valorize, indeed transcendentalize, his sacrifice, we can actually recruit more toward war. Show us how we can die for honor too! It is American jihad, glorifying the objectively insane practice of taking a certain number of our people and marching them into the fatal jaws of the beast of war, all the while showing that the culture will fawn over them even more if they do die. Are you nothing alive? Be something dead.

It is time to reclaim this as a day of peace, just as Christmas, Dr. King's birthday, Gandhi's Salt March launch, Easter, Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday, Hiroshima-Nagasaki commemoration, Gandhi's birthday, Rosa Parks's sit-down day and other days should be noted as Peace Days. What other days can we add or transform? Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day, Thanksgiving into a real spirit day of thanks to Native Americans and gestures of reparation. A culture of peace would orient itself around such days from a pluralistic appreciation for positive peace--peace and justice by peaceable means. I would celebrate September 9 as Swords Into Plowshares Day, on the anniversary of the original 1980 Plowshares act of hammering a nuclear weapon nosecone into a symbolic plowshare. These aren't days to stop our work, necessarily, but to transform it to works of positive peace, to times of peace education and peace enculturation.

In the US, Armistice Day was first declared in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson, resolved as such by Congress in 1926, and made into a federal holiday in 1938. After WWII, a bunch of Kansas Republicans took the Armistice out of the day in their successful campaign to transmogrify the day from a peace day to a day to honor Veterans. That campaign, started in 1953 (how well I remember, as a two-year old in Minnesota), quickly succeeded in the McCarthy Era with a Kansan war hero president, and it's been Veterans Day, a war glorification day ever since Congress declared it so in 1954.

Time to declare peace and live peace and celebrate peace and honor peacemaking, not warmaking. Let us conclude with a war poem from Wilfred Owen, young Brit in the trenches in WWI, on the recruitment lie versus war reality. Owen referred sarcastically to the recruitment language of the day, from Horace, dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori: It is sweet and fitting to die for the fatherland. Then he gives us the real picture of dying in misery from a poison gas attack.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like
hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.
Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped
Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was
yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green
sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering
dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's
sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling
from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell
with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Owen wrote this from the trenches, where he died shortly after. Time to end the war worship.


Andy said...

Tom -- Thanks for the good comments and the poem. My son and I read it with great interest, and he posted a similar point of view on my blog again this year.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Thanks, Andy. I went to the small Armistice vigil at Portland, Oregon's "Living room," Pioneer Courthouse Square. It was good, though just 30 folks. It's been bigger in the past, but I liked seeing old friends. My best to you and your son.