Veterans Day turned a national day about peace into a day honoring the military. Veterans for Peace have called for us to #ReclaimArmisticeDay and get rid of the nationalist undertones that accompany each Veterans Day.
Every November as the American flags are unfurled, a holiday ostensibly to honor military veterans becomes a day of nationalist and pro-war drum beating. The Atlantic magazine referred to the right-wing approach to Veterans Day as “pro-military day”
Veterans Day grew out of Armistice Day, “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace”. It was “after World War II [that] the US congress decided to rebrand November 11 as Veterans Day [when] honoring the warrior quickly morphed into honoring the military and glorifying war” according to Veterans for Peace. This is why they are calling on people to #ReclaimArmisticeDay this Nov. 11.
Armistice Day was first celebrated on Nov. 11, 1919, marking the anniversary of the end of World War I. The war was described by historian Jeanette Keith as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. That explains why many Americans refused to be inducted by the draft or deserted after being drafted. It is also why soldiers avoided fighting once overseas and organized unofficial armistices along the trenches when possible.
I know it’s only November, but if you’re interested in learning more about such armistices, the film Joyeux Noel tells the story of the 1914 Christmas armistice.
One should not miss the hypocrisy of Woodrow Wilson’s armistice day when the same man calling for its observance oversaw the draft and war effort.
I can get behind rejecting the nationalist and pro-war undertones of Veterans Day and calling to #ReclaimArmisticeDay as an anti-war and pro-peace day of remembrance. Such a day requires us to acknowledge the horrors of war.
According to the Costs of War research at Brown University’s Watson Institute, at least 801,000 people were killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan in what they call “direct war violence” from the U.S.’s post-9/11 wars. Many others have died from indirect war violence like the loss of hospitals or the loss of access to clean water. Thousands of U.S. service members and civilian mercenaries have died in combat, and “more than 387,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting since 2001”, per the Watson Institute.
As the institute’s research explains, the violence continues after the “direct war violence” ends as people cope with the traumas of war. This violence includes the over 30,000 suicides of active service members and veterans of the post-9/11 wars.
The cost of war is made all the worse by the logic behind it. Tempest Magazine describes the post 9/11 wars as part of a broader project to maintain global U.S. hegemony in the face of rising powers like China. This broader project included free trade agreements and International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans connected to free trade and neoliberal practices. Of course, the rise of China as a counter hegemonic force shows this imperial project has been a failure.
Tempest Magazine gives three reasons for this failure: the neoliberal policies the US has pushed led to the rise of new powers including China, “Washington’s failed ‘forever wars’ in Afghanistan and Iraq undermined Washington’s ability to police the world… [and] the Great Recession hammered the U.S. and its allies, while China and its tributaries continued to boom.”
Numerous political analysts have pointed to Biden’s international policy as, at least in part, a continuation of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” policy, pulling troops out of the middle east while moving bases in North Australia and ramping up the pacific fleet. This activity is accompanied by various economic and political maneuvers. The idea is to be better positioned to contain and confront China and, to a lesser extent, Russia.
While this was President Obama’s strategy for the U.S. empire, he only made modest, if any, progress. His biggest intervention, the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, was meant to isolate China and strengthen the U.S. but was undermined by the Trump presidency. It is in this context that we can understand the U.S.’s recent role in arming Australia with nuclear submarines. This activity is in the interest of the billionaire class and yet it leads to wars that the poor must fight.
To briefly explain, I use the phrase U.S. empire to mean much more than just the maintenance of U.S. colonial territories like Puerto Rico or Guam or the hundreds of military bases around the world. I think of it instead as the various ways the U.S. maintains global dominance and competes with its rivals. So, the funding of the Israeli military which acts as a watchdog state for the U.S. in the middle east, or free trade agreements with Mexico serving the interests of American capital, or embargos on Iran and Cuba, are all examples of U.S. empire or imperial activity. The U.S. actively engages in imperial competition with other powers, like China and Russia. While the nationalists support the U.S. in this endeavor, the internationalist rejects both Chinese and American imperialism and recognizes that the popular classes of both China and the U.S. have far more in common and shared interest with each other than we have with our rulers competing with each other.
Celebrating peace and honoring the victims of the U.S. empire, civilian and veteran alike, means holding the directors of war responsible. Instead of celebrating Colin Powell in death, we should condemn his active role in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush is not some nice old man painting in his retirement, he is a war criminal who should be charged with crimes against humanity.
Barack Obama, who pardoned Bush’s war criminal cronies saying, “we must look forward, not backward”, should also be held accountable. Obama continued to oversee covert torture centers, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, and began his now infamous signature drone strike program. Trump continued the tradition of funding Israeli and Saudi Arabian war crimes as well as dropping his own bombs in the Middle East. Now, Biden is steering the ship.
This Veterans Day let’s call out this trend. Furthermore, let’s call out the U.S. army for preying on the vulnerable when they recruit young people by offering to pay off student debt. And it’s not just student debt pushing people into the military but the costs of healthcare, the lack of jobs in small towns, and an overall lack of opportunity for young people.
The US military knows this; the Army Times wrote, “[t]he low unemployment rate and booming economy make recruiting difficult, especially when compared to past recruiting pushes during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that lined up closer to a major global recession.”
Therefore, we need to not only stop the U.S. war machine, but we need to fund free higher education for all, free healthcare for all, and a massive green jobs program. We can be free from the economic draft that is currently used to maintain our “volunteer” standing army.
Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States”, famously said that “there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people”. In a similar vein, there is no number of flags that can cover the horrors or cost of the U.S empire and its military industrial complex. Let’s respect veterans this armistice day by bringing the troops home, closing the pentagon, and funding healthcare, education and jobs for all.