I still think of Veterans Day as Armistice Day, its original name, commemorating the end of World War I. The nations that founded the holiday did so to celebrate the end of what they believed was the "war to end all wars" and thus to symbolize the end of war itself. In America, Veterans Day is now associated with honoring US war dead and remembering the sacrifices of veterans in all our conflicts. This is good and very much in keeping with the original spirit of the holiday; for remembering the terrible cost of war is the best way for us to appreciate the peace we now enjoy. For me, Veterans Day embodies two moods at once: somber reflection on the sacrifices of soldiers and gratitude for the blessing of peace.
Yet these days, Veterans Day often makes me sad. It seems that this holiday in particular almost can't help becoming politicized, particularly in the midst of a controversial war. This is a holiday about celebrating the end of war; I don't want to see it become something like a "Support the Troops" bumper-sticker. I want people to look at all the tremendous sacrifices made by veterans and draw the right lesson from them: that war is terrible and we must do everything we can to prevent it. In honoring the warrior, we should take care not to honor war in itself. Remember that beneath the memorials to individual soldiers, the laurels for their courage, there is a subtle message to the younger generation: you should grow up and become soldiers too. I don't think that's the message that should be sent on Veteran's Day. This should be a holiday about remembering the price of peace, for no soldier joins to perpetuate war. All veterans served and fought in the expectation of eventually regaining the peace, and enjoying a measure of it themselves. If we want to truly thank veterans, then we should not only honor them as individuals but honor the thing they fought and died for: the return to a peaceful society. We should remember that Veterans Day was once Armistice Day.
Aidan Delgado served with the U.S. Army Reserve in Iraq and is now an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He is the author of The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes From a Conscientious Objector in Iraq. Listen to an interview with Aidan Delgado on WAMC.