I was born on the day the guns fell quiet. When men who had worn masks looked into each others' eyes. When the telegraph lay still. When men who had felt death inside of them and who had committed murder looked to Heaven and found no answer there.
That was precisely seventy-one years before the moment of my birth. Every day when the people of this nation wave the flag and take a vacation on November 11th, I celebrate a quiet birthday and take a long walk, and I remember Armistice.
On the actual day of my birth, in 1989, the newspapers around the world were reporting that a wall had been torn down in Berlin, and the story that had begun with a ceasefire on the Western Front seventy-one years before saw its final end.
The seventy-one years between those two moments in time saw some 130,000,000 unarmed civilians die from war. Then I was born, and the story closed.
I should have grown up in a world where war was something of the past, an historical enigma no modern, rational man could explain. I did not.
If we discount World War Two and its Holocaust, we are left with around 65,000,000 deaths, give or take a rather significant 30%. My own nation, in that time period, was responsible for ten million of those deaths, or, in other words, more than 25% of all civilian combat deaths around the world and, at minimum, around 12.5%.
Since 1989, my country has killed more than two million unarmed civilians, at least 500,000 of them under the age of five. When you ask an American how many people have died in Iraq, they will answer without any hint of irony: "Five thousand." It does not occur to them that this number is closer to two million than to five thousand. It does not occur to them that someone who is not an American soldier might also count as a "person", and that our war in Iraq began in 1991 instead of 2003.
In one century of struggle, a century of people dedicating their lives to peace or giving their lives in war, we have not moved in any noticeable way. Our condition remains. Armistice escapes us. Heaven is as silent as the still guns of November if no man alive remembers what this holiday is for. This was a day consecrated to peace, a memorial for the very moment when world peace began and the last war in the world came to its final end. The moment when the new era began, and the next age of world history was born. Armistice was the future, and everything was so bright when the gas and the smog of the shells dissipated at last.
The hopes and prayers of the men and women and children who celebrated the first Armistice have gone completely unanswered. There can be no end to a story that continues today. Instead, I will close with the words of the late Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, a man who knew more of war than any of us should ever hope to:
I hate war as only as only a soldier who has lived it can; as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity...War settles nothing.General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Presidential Inaugural Address, January 20th 1953