On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it became "All quiet on the western front." An armistice signed at six o’clock that morning took effect and brought a cease-fire to the "War to end all wars." Since that fateful hour, most nations, which fought in that conflict, observe Armistice Day. The United States in 1938 made it official with a proclamation that states in part: "...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; and...inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples."
Unfortunately the horrors of World War One were to be outdone by those of World War Two and to honor the sacrifices of the veterans of that fought in it, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in 1954. While it is fitting and proper to honor all veterans for their service, it is a shame that the original intent of November eleventh has become lost to the militarization and commercialization of this important date.
With flags flying and bands playing, veterans from all eras march in parades. Dignitaries give glowing speeches glorifying the heroism of those who had the misfortune to end up in combat. Fighter jets streak above the gathered crowds, cannons roar, taps is played and shopping malls offer special sales on merchandise more than likely made in third world countries. So one day a year we remember those men and women who put on the uniform and took the oath. The rest of the year it is business as usual. We pass by the homeless vet with the cardboard sign. We allow our elected representatives to gut the Veterans Administration. We aren’t permitted to see the coffins arriving at Dover Air Force base, and the wounded are flown in at night to keep us in the dark.
I am troubled by the fact that more disabled veterans are being produced in a war based on lies and deception, commanded by a Commander-In-Chief who believes he is above the law, and the budget for the Veterans Administration fails to keep pace with the increase in demand. It all plays out in the background, ignored by most of the media and the average American. But not ignored by this veteran. And not by my fellow members of Veterans for Peace chapter 72.
We will honor our brothers and sisters in arms in a different way, by working to increasing public awareness of the costs of war. We will work to restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations. We will work to end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. We will work to seek justice for veterans and victims of war, and to abolish war as an instrument of national policy. This is our mission. So on this November eleventh we will not be marching in parades. We will not be worshiping at the altar of the God of war. For war is a false god worshiped by warmongers and poll watchers; a false god worshiped by those in the media who wish to be bathed in its reflected glow; a false god worshiped by those who have never seen, heard, smelled or touched the obscenity of the violence they glorify. Instead we will be gathering to renew the spirit of Armistice Day and commemorate it, ..."with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations." We will be gathering to reflect on our mission and to move it forward with purpose and commitment. We will be gathering to renew our bonds of service and the bonds forged by a realization that war is obsolete and that peace is the only path to a "more perfect union" with "liberty and justice for all."
"The one thing I never want to see again is a military parade."
Ulysses S. Grant
If you are in Portland, Oregon, we invite you to join us.
Where: PSU Park Blocks Stage
When: November 11, 2007 11:11 AM
AND THE BAND PLAYED WALTZING MATILDA
When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli
How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again
Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me
So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away
And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?
copyright © Eric Bogle
This will also be published tomorrow (11/11) in The Oregonian as an op-ed, much to my surprise.