It was on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen that the guns fell silent on the Western Front in Europe. Many people have described this moment; one of the most poignant is by Kurt Vonnegut in his book Breakfast of Champions: “It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God.”
The Voice of God came when guns stopped firing and humanity allowed peace to settle over Europe. When peace came, the world embraced her and the celebration of Armistice Day took root. It was in 1918 that President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 to be Armistice Day and that on the eleventh hour the nations of the world should pause in mutual silence, in remembrance of the moment the guns fell silent, to honor the fallen of our past, and promote peace in our future.
The noble aspirations President Wilson had for November 11 have been forgotten. Today Armistice Day is known in the United States as Veterans Day. There is no longer an emphasis on promoting peace in our world for the present or the future. There is now an almost exclusive emphasis on war and the warrior. We have forgotten that moment in 1918 when the guns went quiet and the “Voice of God” heralded peace to the Western Front.
It is time we remember that moment, and bring it back to the forefront of our celebrations. Perhaps the best way to celebrate that moment is by remembering what the world promised those men in 1918. The world was horrified by the atrocities of the war and by the appalling things those men were asked to do. The greatest gift the world could give those warriors was the promise that they would never have to do those things again, by creating a world where it would not be necessary. Every year on November 11 the world would remember this promise and remember why it was made. Today we have lost sight of this promise. Thanking a Veteran one day a year is not enough to erase what we ask them to do. At the Center we are reminded of this every day when we talk to members of the military who are struggling with what they have seen, and what they have done. We must begin moving to peace again so that these men and women no longer feel the need to participate in the horrors of war and they can once again silence their arms and hear the “Voice of God.” The greatest honor a Veteran can be given was granted to them in 1918 when the world collectively spoke and promised “never again.” This Veterans Day honor a Veteran by promising them “never again.”
The Center on Conscience & War is committed to this promise. We will be affirming our commitment to this promise at 11 am this morning with two minutes of silence. Please join us.