On Veterans Day
We have just completed a highly contentious election. Cacophonous voices on both sides of the aisle proclaimed their version of the truth. And while there has been some violence, for the most part, we either listen to the noise, or tune each other out, and life goes on.
The reason that we are able to do this, is because there have been many men and women, since the inception of this great experiment we call America, that have given the full measure of their devotion, so that we can experience the joy of freedom. Freedom of thought; freedom of movement; freedom to pursue our hopes and dreams.
Hanging on the wall in my home is my Great-great-grandfather’s Civil War sword along with the buttons and medals from his uniform. Captain Thomas C. Wertz fought with the Ohio Volunteer Infantry for three years and received several commendations for valor. These artifacts hang as a mute reminder of the horrific conflict that ultimately saved a nation.
It is easy to be proud of this man’s sacrifice. Looking back 150 years, we know through the lens of time that fighting the “War Between the States” as it is still called south of the Mason/Dixon line, was instrumental in giving a struggling country the impetus for emerging from that dark conflict as a world leader. The United States of America would quickly go on to become the most influential nation on earth.
Each time our country is at war, we hope that this will be the last war. When “peace” occurs we optimistically believe the worst is over, and we let down our guard a bit. This peace, however, is never everlasting. These brief interludes between escalating conflicts are not really times of peace, they are merely the preludes to future conflicts
War is the inevitable result of our imperfect nature. We are hard-wired to be tribal and aggressive. Wherever there is a “winner” there is inevitably a “loser” and losers don’t go gently into that good night. They go underground for awhile; perhaps their specific ideology changes. The players change, but the nature of conflict is inevitable.
As soon as boundaries are drawn and authority asserted, somewhere in the world, there is a faction that would seek to undo the equilibrium. Even as day follows night, so too does conflict follow humanity. We cloak our aggression in the shroud of religion or ideology, but in truth, these are just smoke screens for the reality that the human race is constantly fighting an unnamed conflict between good and evil; right and wrong.
And although we always like to believe that our “tribe” is on the side of righteousness, we look at the situation through the prism of our own affiliations. Only history, the passing of time, will ever reveal the “truth” of any given conflict’s true nature.
We could wish that this wasn’t accurate. We can hope and pray and work towards peace, but it is the ultimate illusion. It certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but at the same time, we must be truly cognizant of the reality that there can be no lasting peace; we are a world at war, and evil is the foe.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory…”
World War I had been called, “The war to end all wars,” but within two decades The Second World War was fought, followed by the Korean War, the War in Viet Nam, the Gulf War, the War in Iraq and Afghanistan…Hundreds of thousands of men and women gave their time, their talents, and sometimes their lives to insure that the United States of America would remain the “land of the free.”
Armistice Day had primarily been established in recognition of World War I veterans, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into being Public Law 380 which changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day in honor of all the men and women who had served in the military.
This week we will be celebrating Veterans Day. Someone once said that “It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you.” The freedom and the liberties we love were not free. They were forged in the crucible of war, by men and women, many of whom gave the country they loved, the ultimate sacrifice — their lives.
We must honor those who have fought and are still fighting to make us safe and keep us free. Young men and women; white, black, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, gay…; they have sacrificed much for many years and more will be demanded in the future. We must renew our national promise to fulfill our obligations to our veterans and their families who have given so much. President John F. Kennedy reminded us that “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Westfall can be reached at [email protected].