On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918 an armistice was declared, effectively ending one of the worst conflicts in history – World War I.
But had the Central Powers and the opposing Allied Powers taken to heart Pope Benedict XV’s call for peace at the beginning of the war, nearly all the carnage of the world’s first global war would have never occurred.
On Dec. 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV pleaded with the warring parties to observe a Christmas truce. He asked, “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” He was hoping that such a truce would lead to sincere peace negotiations. Tragically, his plea was officially ignored. But on Christmas opposing soldiers along various spots on the Western Front inspiringly declared their own unofficial truce.
And a courageous Catholic American, Ben Salmon, walking in the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus, refused to kill. He was sentenced to death, which was later commuted to a lengthy prison sentence of hard labor.
World War I caused over 8 million military deaths. And the civilian death toll was even worse at approximately 13 million – largely due to starvation, exposure, disease, military encounters, and massacres.
World War I – “the war to end all wars” – instead became a precursor to the even more horrible World War II – the worst war in human history – and scores of wars ever since. Honestly, for what?
Veterans who survive wars very often come home with serious physical, mental and spiritual wounds. Why do Christians keep silent? Why do Christians in their silence thus allow governments to put young men and women in harm’s way – to kill and be killed? Shouldn’t the followers of the nonviolent Jesus demand an end to this sacrilege, the sacrilege of war and war preparation which gives worship to the god of nationalism?
Adequately taking care of veterans’ needs, like mental and physical health care and housing, is a moral imperative that demands much more funding.
For the sake of helping create a culture which opposes war and war preparation, a culture which decries sending more young men and women into one senseless war after another, we need to deemphasize the nationalistic fervor of flag waving and military parades associated with the recent Veterans Day observance in the U.S. – as well similar militaristic celebratory days in several other countries – and instead recapture the prayerful and peaceful meaning that was originally central to what Veterans Day was originally called: Armistice Day.
In a June 4, 1926, congressional resolution officially recognizing the end of World War I, the U.S. Congress declared that the recurring anniversary of the day when hostilities ceased “should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
And 12 years later Nov. 11 was designated a legal U.S. holiday to be known as “Armistice Day” dedicated to the cause of world peace.
But unfortunately, in 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day which lent the annual observance to become more nationalist and militaristic, and far less centered on its original purpose to pray, give thanks, and perpetuate peace, good will and mutual understanding between nations.
In today’s war-torn world, where wars dot the globe – killing countless innocent people, especially children, as in Gaza – may we finally take to heart the Gospel call of Jesus who blesses the peacemakers, and Pope Francis’ lament that “Wars are always a defeat, always!”
And let’s join the nonviolent patriotic movement led by Veterans for Peace by remembering the true spirit of Armistice Day throughout the year by declaring no to more war, and demanding social justice and peace for everyone, everywhere!
Image: Adobe Stock. First World War Memorial Cemetery in Verdun, France. By Kruwt.