Let's talk about people -- starting with the people who, 99 years ago this day, managed to put an end to the First World War and who thought they were going to be able to fix the peace in place, like a beautiful moth on a collector's display. It didn't work. With the war over, six months of peace negotiations were entered into with the highest of hopes -- the first three of Wilson's Fourteen Points are a libertarian dream -- and the parties built a peaceful Europe that carried the seeds of its own destruction.
But they had hope. The weary soldiers had hope -- and for nearly eleven years, that hope soared. Don't lose sight of that. People fail; our institutions fail on a grand scale -- but we get up and try again.
As time -- and wars -- have passed and piled up, the focus of this day has shifted, from the agreement that ended the War To End All Wars, from politicians and their fine words to the people who have fought all wars and the peace in between: the veterans.
You can, I suppose, look at the sidewalk and mumble, "Than kew for y'service," like you were tipping a waiter. A little recognition is better than none. But better yet, make eye contact, listen -- maybe the veterans you know spent four years, or twenty, as a glorified filing clerk in uniform; maybe they did brave or dangerous things. They served. Lend them your attention for even a little time.
I have worked with a guy who did comms on a big SAC airplane, with an African-American commercial artist who would smile sadly and look off in the distance when his service in WW II was mentioned, with Army, Marine and USAF vets who fought in Vietnam; with a man the army spent a few months teaching high-speed Morse Code and then sent off to radio in radar plots to fighter bases in the Pacific -- by voice. I had an Uncle who served on a tiny Naval patrol craft in the Med (that once bumped into an Italian submarine with a crew bound and determined to surrender and figured a Chief Petty Officer was as good for that as anyone), a brother who served as a chaplain in the Middle East and a great, great grandfather who got through Army training, was kicked on a hip by mule en route to his first assignment, and sent home after (mostly) recovering. They all stepped up. They all had hopes -- and put themselves at risk to preserve them, and yours as well. Thank them and know who you are thanking, and why.
8 months ago