Veterans Day arrives on 11-11-11, a day numerologists are touting as the day something either incredibly good or incredibly bad will happen. Probably nothing will happen but it is fun to speculate about a rare number sequence occurrence.
Veterans Day was first observed after President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a national anniversary remembrance for the soldiers who served and/or died during the ‘Great War’ of 1914-1918 (U. S. 1917-1918). The end of World War I came at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Then in 1953 a man in Kansas suggested the United States use that day to remember all veterans who had fought for the U. S. President Eisenhower signed that bill into law in 1954.
Some people celebrate by staying home and reading through the advertising sections which businesses use to lure people into spending money before Christmas. However, there are still events held to honor the veterans. Here in Portland, there are several events held each year with the 37th Annual Hollywood District Veterans Day Parade being the most traditional.
For many Unitarian Universalists this federal holiday can bring up conflicting emotions. Does honoring the sacrifice of brave men and women mean we support the war? How can we remember and celebrate at the same time? Given the seemingly endless ways our government uses force around the world, how do we support the people who wear the uniform and their families without encouraging support for the action taken? How do we resolve our feelings?
One way to is to remember the beginning of this federal holiday; it was unimaginable before World War I to fathom a whole planet at war. Except for a very few countries (Mexico, west coast of S. America, most of Scandinavia, one African nation, a couple of European countries and Malaysia) every other country took part in one way or another in the war. Here are some striking numbers: 22.5 million died on the Allied side, 16 million died on the Axis side and then the flu pandemic of 1918 took the lives of 50 million more. The aftermath of the Armistice and Treaty of Versailles eventually led to World War II. When you add those numbers to the death toll you get: 61 million dying on the Allied side and 12 million dying on the Axis side. Totals: 78.5 million on the Allied side, 28 million on the Axis side. All of these men (mostly) and women served their countries in uniform.
The holiday may have lost its original meaning to remember the signing of the Armistice but we can remember. We can remember the sacrifices made by the soldiers serving in our armed forces and by their families. We can teach our children and youth about what has happened and what is still left to be done. We can teach our children and youth the values in our beliefs and help guide them in not repeating what has happened in our past.
We can go to parades and sales and be thankful that we have those choices. We can teach our children and youth about the value and responsibility of freedom. We can take a moment in tribute to the National Moment of Remembrance and be in respectful silence at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month for a minute -- a minute for those who have served and to teach those who might forget why we have this federal holiday.