Posted by: Bill Tracy | November 11, 2016

Armistice Day

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations;

-Resolution of U.S. Congress

It’s a holiday today. No work, no school, just sweet free time. We’re calling it “Veterans Day,” and the justification for the free time is that we’re celebrating the service of all U.S. military veterans. Most folks who may know or happen upon a military veteran will give him the trendy “Thanks for your service” that really means little and grates on the nerves of most vets I know. A few will go out and play soldier in “color guards” and raise the flag to make everyone feel patriotic. We’ve been doing this since 1954 when the U.S. Congress, in their deliberative wisdom decided a day celebrating peace wasn’t cutting it. Or maybe they just gave up on peace.

Peace in Camden, NJ. Overgrown, neglected and with celebratory liquor just steps away.

Peace in Camden, NJ. Overgrown, neglected and with celebratory liquor just steps away.

Before 1954, this was Armistice Day, and it was intended as a celebration of peace. The Veterans for Peace statement says:

Almost a hundred years ago the world celebrated peace as a universal principal.  The first World War had just ended and nations mourning their dead collectively called for an end to all wars.  Armistice Day was born and was designated as  “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated.”

That “War to End All Wars” came to a close formally at 11 AM on November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — and so the world’s bells were rung at 11 AM to celebrate peace. Two minutes of silence followed — the first in memory of 20 million dead combatants, the second in respect of families and survivors suffering. That was a great way to celebrate until World War II came along.  By then you couldn’t hear the bells for the bombs and artillery.

Veterans for Peace would like us to return to celebrating peace on this day. I’m all for that. Unfortunately, this country is now actively warring in five countries around the world while police in this country have been militarized against some of its own citizens. And with over 700 U.S. military installations all over the world, celebrating a peace seems futile. I’ve looked around locally, and I don’t see any peace celebrations scheduled. Truth be told, there are damn few monuments dedicated to peace where such events might happen. You can find a war memorial of some sort, usually within walking distance of any place you happen to be; peace monuments, that’s a different story. I found three in South Jersey, and I don’t think any sort of celebratory events are scheduled for Armistice Day at any of them.

People of Peace monument, Woodbury, NJ

People of Peace monument, Woodbury, NJ

There is a Peace Monument in Camden at the intersection of Ferry Avenue and Broadway (across from Sacred Heart Church). I don’t know the history, but almost certainly the monument grew out of the community work of Sacred Heart. It’s neglected appearance suggests true Camden style.

In Woodbury, there is a dramatic and grand “People of Peace” memorial directly in front of the Gloucester County Justice building complex. The inscription reads:

PEACE

It sits by itself alone and is taken for granted. Like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Missed only when you realize it is no longer there. The lives that have been given for that light are remembered in the years of peace.

I don’t know anything of the history of this, but it’s a substantial structure, and obviously some planning, thought and money went into the creation. It also makes for a tranquil place to sit as a man sitting on a bench told me. After taking a few pictures, I told him I would disturb his peace no more, and he smiled appreciatively, as peace would.

Peace Pilgrim Park, Egg Harbor City, NJ

Peace Pilgrim Park, Egg Harbor City, NJ

The big Mahoff of South Jersey peace monuments is a park in Egg Harbor City. Peace Pilgrim Park is dedicated to Mildred Lisette Norman who was born in that city in 1908. This is the only city park I’ve ever seen that needed chain link fencing all around — perhaps they fear the peace will escape? In 1953, Norman began walking back and forth across the country celebrating and teaching peace, calling herself “Peace Pilgrim.” She did that non-stop for the next 28 years until her death in 1981. She quit counting the miles she had walked at 25,000; likely she logged 50,000 or more in her journey. She probably crossed the country 20 times. Remarkably, she carried nothing but the clothes on her back. The Wikipedia entry says: “When she began her pilgrimage she had taken a vow to ‘remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.’” Like a Buddhist monk, that’s how she apparently lived for 28 years, selling peace on the road and relying on the generosity of strangers. I suspect her peace would be disturbed, as is mine, at the crass commercialization of today’s “Veterans Day.”

Words of the Peace Pilgrim at her park in Egg Harbor City, NJ

Words of the Peace Pilgrim at her park in Egg Harbor City, NJ

In addition to the free time, it’s a shopper’s delight. All manner of Veterans Day sales are in progress. I got an email today from the monks at Gethsemani, the Trappist Monastery in Kentucky famous for spawning Thomas Merton. They’re having a “Veterans Day Special,” and I can get six 1-lb. boxes of their Mint Julep Bourbon Fudge, 10% off with the special discount code. The most noxious to me are the restaurants who want to “thank” veterans with a free meal. Such crass opportunism surely comes from the sordid minds of marketing demons. I’d love to see the business plans offered to senior management for these deals — how many additional full meals and drinks that will be sold as “veterans” bring friends and family along for their celebratory free meal (sorry, drinks not included and tips still expected). So happy to give you a complementary bowl of pasta while we overcharge your pals for the defrosted and reheated meals hastily prepared by our underpaid kitchen workers. Now everyone is a hero, with a special day and free meals! How nice for everyone.

Tiles created by children of the middle school at Egg Harbor City, NJ grace Peace Pilgrim Park

Tiles created by children of the middle school at Egg Harbor City, NJ grace Peace Pilgrim Park

Sorry if I don’t seem to appreciate the good intentions. If I saw any understanding or sincerity in them, I would, but I don’t. As a Vietnam veteran, there are only two things I actually want. First is an apology — from a government that wasted human lives (countless millions given all casualties from both conventional and the chemical war efforts). So many families suffer still the grief of arrogant men in powerful government positions who preyed on the honor of young men to “serve their country” (and continue to do so today). Robert McNamara’s “Gee I guess I shouldn’t have done that” is hardly sufficient. It’s despicable. The second thing I want is simple — Peace. There is no peace in this country, and I can’t imagine any time in the future when there will be. We become more militaristic and warlike with each day that passes. Frankly, it frightens me.

Meanwhile, on Armistice Day, I’ll be seeking that dim light at the end of a tunnel, Peace, not war. And I’ll be standing up and calling BS on most of what I see. You can be sure I won’t be doing it at Olive Garden.

The rest of you can do what you like with your free time. They tell me it’s still a free country. That’s what they say anyway.

Peace Pilgrim marches ever onward at her park in Egg Harbor City, NJ

Peace Pilgrim marches ever onward at her park in Egg Harbor City, NJ

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Responses

  1. Bill: I agree with your message 100%. I didn’t even realize what you have told me about Veteran’s Day; how it used to be Armistice Day and was intended to celebrate peace. What has been done to this day of remembrance is indicative of what has happened to our country. We now celebrate war instead of peace.

    And now that Trump has been elected to be the “leader” of the “free” world, I am in terror of what further indecencies will be inflicted upon my country. I have said during this entire disgusting campaign that if he was elected, I would move to Canada. But I was born in this country and I can’t cop out like that. I have to stay in the U.S. so that I can vote and protest and do whatever else I can to try to save my country. I am in mortal fear that Trump’s attitude toward women and immigrants and anyone of color will be contagious (it already has been contagious; how else could he have been elected?) to the point of eroding human rights to a point where I am terrified of living in that world. I am taking Veteran’s Day as a day of mourning the impending death of a democracy. It’s been on its last legs for a long time now, and it’s now only a matter of time. I am normally an eternal optimist, but I’m feeling very pessimistic right now. I will be in mourning for quite a while. Then I will go on and try to do whatever I can to continue to promote love toward ALL and that peace is what everyone deserves. But at this point, I don’t feel very optimistic.

    I thank you for sharing your message. The only hope we have is that people like you will continue to exercise your right of free speech (while we still have it). I am extremely depressed about the state of my country. I am glad that we can still talk about it freely, although I see that right being eroded more daily. I’m encouraged by all the people protesting the results of the presidential election, although I wonder what percentage of them actually voted. Maybe we as a country deserve what we’ve been given, since not enough of us actually exercise our precious rights. And rights that are not exercised are eventually taken away.

  2. Beautiful ideas beautifully written. My wonderful son-in-law, a veteran of two tours of active combat, does not like “Thank you for your service” (he always responds politely) although he knows it is an improvement to the shunning of Vietnam and Korean vets. He would like to see veterans receive proper medical and PTSD care and support, and so would prefer grateful citizens to do something about that. This is the least they are owed, in my opinion.


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