Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

Today is the day we celebrate the surviving veterans of all the wars America has been in. We call it Veterans Day now, but once upon a time it was Armistice Day and celebrated the end of the Great War. Armistice Day isn't the only holiday that has undergone such a transformation. Memorial Day originally was called Decoration Day and commemorated only the Union Civil War dead. But gradually it was expanded to include the dead of all America wars and gained a new name. It's nice that we have holidays to celebrate veterans and those who didn't live to become veterans, but I think we lost something when we changed Armistice Day. As Armistice Day, the day celebrated not just those who fought in the war, but the end of the war itself, the end of the killing.

Americans have become very enamored of war. We're more likely to celebrate the start of a war than the end of one. Pearl Harbor Day may as well be a holiday for the amount of attention it gets each year while V-E Day and V-J Day are mere footnotes for trivia masters to memorize. Conservatives like Rumsfeld, McCain, and the denizens of Right Blogistan seem to think the solution to every foreign problem is to demonstrate our strength by bombing someone. It's more important to them to establish their strength than to actually work a problem through and see who's right. I'm sure there are deep psycho-sexual reasons for this insecure, big hammer approach, but I'm not going to worry about it this morning.

What's been disheartening to me is how frequently liberals validate this kind of thought. Even people who were quite active opposing the war in Iraq seemed to feel they had to preface every sentence with "I'm not a pacifist, but...." It's a painful echo of the generation of women who have grown up prefacing every observation of injustice with "I'm not a feminist, but...."Maybe in the Obama era, liberals will stop being ashamed. If we can make the L word and the F word safe for polite company, maybe we can someday do the same with the P word. We need to stop letting conservatives define who we are. We need to take command of the language.

One step toward regaining our souls might be to decide that the ends of wars deserve commemoration. Happy Armistice Day.

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