Today is Veterans Day, originally celebrated in commemoration of the Armistice that ended World War I. In his 1919 proclamation, President Woodrow Wilson said Armistice Day would be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us, and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” Not long afterward, the nations of the West would learn that barbarians pay little attention to the councils of the nations, and peace and justice cannot be secured through appeasing them. Peace is the soldier’s gift, so today is Veterans Day.
Our national ceremony begins at 11:00 AM today, when a wreath will be laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There will be parades around the country. President Obama’s official proclamation begins:
“On Veterans Day, we come together to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. Americans across this land commemorate the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve the liberty of our Nation, the families who support them, and the heroes no longer with us. It is not our weapons or our technology that make us the most advanced military in the world; it is the unparalleled spirit, skill, and devotion of our troops. As we honor our veterans with ceremonies on this day, let our actions strengthen the bond between a Nation and her warriors.
In an unbroken line of valor stretching across more than two centuries, our veterans have charged into harm’s way, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the freedoms that have blessed America. Whether Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard, they are our Nation’s finest citizens, and they have shown the heights to which Americans can rise when asked and inspired to do so. Our courageous troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe have earned their place alongside previous generations of great Americans, serving selflessly, tour after tour, in conflicts spanning nearly a decade.”
The President’s fine proclamation makes an important point. Veterans Day does not occur only within the light and music of the ceremonies held by a grateful populace for their defenders. It is also happening on the streets of Iraq, where troops walk careful patrols, past windows that might harbor assassins, and cars that could be murder weapons. It is Veterans Day in the barren mountains of Afghanistan, where snipers stalk each other on ground where both freedom and empires have died.
It is Veterans Day on the border between the Koreas, where the President challenged the “utter darkness” of the North, whose government “would rather starve its people than change.” Long after the G20 summit is over, and all the dignitaries have gone, American and South Korean soldiers will stand watch on the DMZ, peering into that utter darkness and waiting for that brutal government to collapse… or explode.
It’s Veterans Day at West Point, Fort Jackson, Camp Lejeune, the Great Lakes Naval Station, Lackland Air Force Base, Cape May, and all the other colleges and camps where recruits are trained. Sometimes there are accidents with powerful military equipment and weapons. Even training to be a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coast Guard is dangerous. Freedom is dangerous. Those who defend it accept more than their fair share of risk, so the rest of us may enjoy the rewards. Sometimes we repay them by allowing corrupt or incompetent state governments to disenfranchise them.
The home front has become part of the battlefield in the War on Terror. Professional soldiers watch the news of attempted bombings in Times Square, or the sky over the United States East Cost, and fight to control their anger. Many will spend Veterans Day praying that the next time the enemy strikes, they will be there to discharge the responsibility they have sworn to accept… a responsibility they do not wish to see falling upon untrained civilians and children.
Every man and woman wearing an American uniform wishes the job they trained so hard for was no longer necessary… and knows that will never be the case. Peace does not exist in the absence of freedom, and far too much of the world remains in chains. War will never be eliminated through any human agency, so the best of us will always stand watch against the worst. The strength of American arms has won a thousand battles before they even started. It has put an end to thousand-year Reichs, and forced Iron Curtains to sit still until they rusted away. Today we thank them for the priceless gifts of peace and liberty they give us, every day.