There will be parades today, parades of men and women, old and young -- a lot of young men, many of them maimed.
Isolationist or hawk, pacifist or convinced that the compelling and immediate power of organized violence ought to be used to further the ends of the State: no matter what you believe, you owe these people respect. They stepped up and put life and limb on the line. They didn't set the policy; they didn't decide where they would be sent. They volunteered to be the tip of the spear, the edge of the blade, to work long hours for low pay and risk blood and breath in the process. It's not much for you to stop a moment, to wave or nod or bow your head, very little compared to what they put on the line, and no matter what you think of this country's wars and the politicians who choose them, the warriors are just people like you, who have faced risks and privation you will never know. Give them a smile, a nod; acknowledge their service.
On this eleventh day of the eleventh month, I try to stop and put myself in the position of those who, at the eleventh hour, saw the meatgrinder of the first truly modern mechanized war finally grind to a halt. The world was young then, young enough for grandiose gestures and grand thoughts, and thus it was that the "War To End All Wars" was ended at 11:00 on 11/11. It didn't stick and perhaps the most cynical and war-weary knew it wouldn't; but they wanted it to.
The years from a little before the turn of the century to 1914 were years of great progress and great change; they were good years, especially for men of European descent in Europe and North America. When war broke out, many on both sides expected a short, victorious conflict; in the United States, most Civil War veterans were of dozing-by-the-fire age. Few expected the war to be as terrible as it was.
As terrible as it was, it was not a lasting lesson to governments on the avoidance of war, and as much at odds with our comfortable, modern civilization as the waging of wars may seem, we should never forget that WW I came as no less of a jar, in a time equally as forward-looking. Wars, it seems, are more inevitable than progress and the threat of force hovers unspoken over all diplomacy. Force not in abstract but in the concrete form of individuals, of "boots on the ground." Soldiers. Sailors. Airmen. Warriors.
We should never forget those who step forward, away from comfort and complacency, to serve. This day is a day to look them in the eye and to thank them; a day to see them not as symbols but as individuals, neighbors, relatives, spouses.
Thank you for your service.
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