Friday, November 11, 2011
By the end of the War-to-End-All-Wars, the cream of Europe’s best was ground into hamburger and the Spanish flu pretty much ended any nation’s ability to field men. To celebrate not having any more men to kill, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was declared Armistice Day.
Following the war, President Woodrow Wilson celebrated Armistice Day by inviting 2000 soldiers to dinner at the White House. The main course? Ravioli, the canned fad food that was sweeping the nation. Hey! It was 1920 and canned food was so new and novel, it was almost as good as the second coming. Woody’s meal started the now forgotten tradition of eating ravioli on Nov 11.
Sweeping changes don’t always start on the west coast or in trendy New York discos. Alvin King, the owner of a shoe repair shop in Emporia, Kansas, was the epicenter of Veterans Day.
“Why not,” I imagine him thinking, “remember all veterans on Armistice Day?” Alvin did more than just think about it, he acted. The following year President Eisenhower, a veteran himself, signed a bill May 26, 1954, making Nov 11 Veterans Day and a Federal holiday.
Since Ike, world wars have been called police actions and I can’t begin to recount all the places American service men and women have been stationed at and therefore died in. Despite their sacrifices the theaters of war have expanded. It was called total war and now we call it asymmetric war. But it means the same; each of us has a stake in the outcome and duty to participate.
Clausewitz codified most of it in the 1830s. Clausewitz observed that conflict causes an erosion of separation between the military and the civilians. He wasn’t the first and he isn’t the last. The battlefield has arrived and is living in our parking lots. The woman in the bunker with an M-16 has only a few degrees of separation from the woman pushing the grocery cart down the store aisle.
Law enforcement, in all its facets, is only one degree. The average citizen who picks up their phone and drops a dime on suspicious behavior is another. The fireman who goes into a burning building looking for victims or the postman who notices mail building up at the home of the elderly and acts, all soldiers of the conflict. They are all part of the total war. Our national character forms from our behavior and willingness to be involved. Each of us sacrifice some, some sacrificed all.
It isn’t a perfect system. We let strangers feel us up at airports for the illusion of safety. Politicians pimp to voting blocs. Citizens sell their votes and freedoms to the empty promise of safety and security in an unsafe world.
So if you sit down to an Italian meal tonight, enjoy your ravioli. Spend a second remembering all the veterans, who have, are, and will stand up and be counted. Think about how every day we need to act to preserve our freedoms and way of life.