We can all learn from Nov. 11
Nov. 8, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

Veterans Day programs will take place across the country Thursday, Nov. 11, but a large portion of the population will not be represented.

Like many of our holidays, it often seems that it is only the very old or the very young who participate.

This is unfortunate, because these occasions provide an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the lessons of the past, and, as a wise fellow once noted, those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

When we think of Veterans Day (or Armistice Day, as it was known until after World War II), we might be inclined to distance ourselves from it.

Even the name, Armistice Day, has an old-fashioned sound to it, and conjures up images of doughboys (nothing to do with refrigerated biscuits) in trenches, which seems worlds away from reality for most of us.

For some, Armistice Day is a reminder of the horrible blizzard that swept across the region Nov. 11, 1940 (see reminiscences of that storm from local residents in this issue, marking its 70th anniversary).

For others, the day might evoke memories of their own time in the service, or that of a family member.

The name of the holiday was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, to include veterans from all of the conflicts in which our country has participated.

War, like a lot of other things, has changed dramatically since the armistice took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month back in 1918.

Instead of sending large armies to war to do battle with other large armies, we tend to send soldiers out in smaller groups these days, to get picked off one by one, or to be maimed by improvised explosive devices.

Instead of engaging large, national armies, we are faced with elusive adversaries who are sometimes difficult to identify.

At the time, people exposed to the carnage of the first world war optimistically referred to that conflict as “the war to end all wars.”

It doesn’t seem like we have learned much since then.

The world was a tumultuous place in the period surrounding World War I.

Guys like Lenin and Trotsky were busy stirring up the rabble in Russia, and at the same time, all across Europe, the old order was beginning to crumble.

Czars and emperors were becoming endangered species.

There were a variety of factors that led up to “the Great War,” just as there have been a variety of factors leading up to the other conflicts that have occurred since that time.

Economics is a big one. Jobs, or lack of jobs, can lead to instability. Food shortages and other strained living conditions can make people restless, and even desperate.

When things are bad, it is easy for some flashy revolutionary or politician to come along and lead people down the garden path, as it were, with promises of a better life for them and their families.

A keen observer might note some similarities between the world in 1918 and the world today.

The map has changed, but there is no doubt that there is unrest both in the US and around the world now, just as there was then.

The inability or unwillingness of our leaders to address the nation’s astronomical debt puts us in a precarious position.

Factors such as unemployment, the housing collapse, the tightening of the credit market, and living beyond our means (individually and as a nation), have contributed to the instability.

Yet, our elected representatives continue to ignore the big issues, choosing instead to focus on partisan bickering and feathering their own nests.

Ignoring the problems of the people was a dangerous error for czars and emperors, and it is a dangerous error in judgement today.

This Veterans Day, we would do well to remember not only the veterans who have served their country, but the factors that have compelled young men and women in this and other countries to put their lives on the line in the past.

When there is instability in the world, crazy things can happen.

History has shown that sticking one’s head in the sand, adopting an isolationist attitude, or telling ourselves it can’t happen here, are not enough to keep one out of conflict.

If we don’t address the major challenges that confront us, there is a danger that we may be sucked into conflict whether we like it or not.

The lessons of history are clear, and we would be wise to pay attention.

These lessons are for all of us, not just for the very young or the very old.

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