by: Valerie Elverton-Dixon on November 12th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
On Veteran’s Day, we take a moment to remember what veterans suffer. We recognize post traumatic stress and moral injury, when vets carry guilt regarding the things they saw and sometimes did in war. We see the suicide rates among military personnel, and we do not turn away from those veterans who come home from war with physical injuries that will require care for as long as they live. We remind ourselves of those who are living on food stamps and those who are underemployed or unemployed. We think about all that veterans have to offer society, a set of habits and skills that make them excellent friends, neighbors, employees and employers.
On Veteran’s Day, we think about what we as individuals and as a society owe to veterans. I say: we ought never to forget that Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day that commemorates the end of World War I. Armistice Day reminds us that what we owe to ourselves and especially to veterans is the end to ongoing wars and the prevention of new wars starting.
War is not encoded on human DNA. It is a choice that happens when groups are in competition for resources. It rises from the will-to power. Yet history teaches us that there is often a moment before a war begins when it could have been avoided. This is the case with World War I. Reading an excerpt of historian Barbara Tuchman’s book The Guns of August in the anthology Approaches to Peace: a Reader in Peace Studies edited by David P. Barash, we learn how World War I was preventable.
We know the series of events. Britain, France, and Russia were allies while Germany and Austria-Hungary were allies. Italy was neutral. This meant that an attack on one was considered an attack on all the others. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in June of 1914 by a Serbian national, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. Russia supported Serbia, so Germany declared war on Russia and France. When Germany invaded Belgium on the way to France, Britain declared war on Germany. Before the war was over, Turkey and Bulgaria were fighting on the side of Germany while Japan, Italy, and the United States supported Britain, France, and Russia.
According to Tuchman, while ultimatums flew between the various nations, armies mobilized. She writes: “once the mobilization button was pushed, the whole machinery for calling up, equipping and transporting two million men began turning automatically” (28).
Germany did not want to fight a two-front war, and there was a proposal offered to Germany to allow Alsace, a source of conflict between Germany and France, to have autonomy “as a Federal State within the German Empire.” The hope was that this would keep France and Britain out of the war. Britain sent a proposal to Germany that it would keep France neutral “pending the result of efforts to settle the Serbian affair” (29). The Kaiser saw an opportunity to concentrate his military effort in the east, but it was too late, the armies were already on the march.
Nearly a century has passed. We do not face massive troop movements that generals say cannot be stopped. Wars today are terroristic civil wars; drone wars; wars against non-state actors. The elements of the democratic peace are working as citizens are reluctant to allow their elected representatives to sanction war. (This is what we saw when there was very little support for unilateral American military strikes against Syria as punishment for its use of chemical weapons.)
A war weary public is much more insistent upon diplomatic solutions to conflict. We have seen from history that wars never end in a particular geographical location. They all come home with the men and women we send to fight them. They come home in our tears when we mourn our loved ones who die “over there.” Wars come home in the national debt and deficits that leave us with fewer resources to spend on schools and roads and health care.
In his Veteran’s Day remarks, President Obama said: “So when we talk about our promises to our veterans, we don’t just mean for a few years; we mean now, tomorrow and forever – and not just for generations past, but for this generation of veterans and all who will follow.”
The best way to honor veterans past, present and future is not only a paradigm shift away from just war thinking to just peace theory that works every precious day to prevent violent conflict; it is also to work to make war itself obsolete. This is the debt we owe veterans and ourselves on Armistice Day.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.