Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day

November 11 isn't a date that resonates much with Americans. We used to call it Armistice Day, now it's Veterans Day, but like many other holidays, we move it around, not even allowing it the dignity of its own date. Ask any 20 people on the street what it commemorates and I'd bet more than half wouldn't have any idea.

We never really thought it was our war anyway. The isolationist US finally entered World War I in 1917 only after learning of a German proposal to Mexico to help it recover territory previously lost to the US. That and German submarine attacks on unarmed vessels finally convinced Congress to come to the aid of France and Britain, who had already been fighting for three years.

In France today schools are closed, government buildings and corporations shut, services severely reduced. It's not surprising that this country should stop to recall the end of a war that left it with about 1,700,000 military and civilian dead and more than 4 million military wounded.

They remember four years of horrible trench warfare, finally brought to an end more by attrition than by victory. Many of the major battles of the war were fought on French soil: Verdun, the Somme, both battles of the Marne; others were just across the border in Flanders. Remains of soldiers and materiel still find their way to the surface in the fields of northern France.

It's always been rather shocking to me that an armistice should call for fighting to stop at a specific hour on a specific day; to choose to end the carnage not immediately, but more poetically, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. How many people died during the tenth hour?


x said...

Well said--I am going to share this with American friends of mine who lack this understanding. Thanks.

Julie R said...

Having had family and friends who served and survived, Veterans Day always meant a lot to me. I went and put flowers and a flag on pop's grave; and there were lots of flags out. Check out my Facebook profile page for a picture of my handsome dad at basic training. But, yes, in America we've let it go by the wayside. I'm not even sure if there are parades held anymore, or if people would get out of bed to go see them. Maybe it's because the fighting has never been on American soil - except for Pearl Harbor. I don't know. I remember one year there was an older gentlemen wearing his service hat on Veteran's Day and I went up to him and shook his hand and thanked him and he got all teary-eyed.

Shelli said...

I think that the change of name to Veterans Day occurred after WWII, which was a war we were more involved in (although our entry was delayed until we were directly attacked at Pearl Harbor) and which produced more American veterans than had WWI.

I agree that service veterans should be acknowledged, but I think we need to do more about getting them decent physical and mental health care and pensions than designating one day that most people don't celebrate anyway.