As the son of a World War II sailor, I was raised with an honest respect for our nation’s veterans. The massive size of WW II and its reshaping of society made World War I — its predecessor — appear less interesting. In history class — this was during the Vietnam years — we found referring to the earlier conflict as “The Great War” rather ironic in our overly serious, teenaged analysis.
But certainly one lasting impact that ghastly war had was the establishment worldwide of November 11th as Veterans Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, it was intended as a time for reflection on just how close the slogan had come to becoming true — not because human beings evolved to resolve political conflict through negotiation, but because the combatants were running out of military age men.
The statistics are frightening: nineteenth century tactics combined with 20th century weapons and primitive living conditions killed over 9 million soldiers and wounded another 21 million. That’s approaching 2% of the total population of the countries originally involved, including an even larger percentage of the male population — from ages 16 to 49.
World War II statistics are even grimmer, as they include significant numbers of civilian deaths. Our Vietnam losses were intolerably high for the politicians at around 50,000 men over 10+ years. Imagine modern media coverage of a single battle — e.g., The Somme — that killed a million soldiers!
But today’s world places a much higher premium on life than theirs’ did, and for that we owe them great thanks for getting that evolution started. Indeed, my point in writing this is to honor the effort made by our ancestors to, in the cant of the 1970s, “Give peace a chance.” It didn’t last long; its resolution was even bloodier.
But the sacrifice was sincere.
So to all our veterans: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.