Today is Veterans’ Day.

So congratulations to all Veterans, including my husband Lolo (World War II) and my son in law John (Iraq) and my cousin Billy (Viet Nam).

Veteran’s day started out as “Armistice Day” to celebrate the end of the “war to end all wars”, AKA “The Great War”, AKA “World War I”.A lot of todays’ headlines stem from those days, from Iraq (“invented” at Versailles when the Ottoman Empire fell apart) to complaints about “Bush unilateralism” (World War I spawned the idea of international law that was supposed to stop all wars; Bush’s sin was noticing these laws, like the Emperor’s new clothes, were fake, and acting on his own to correct the problem.)

The elites who ignore the heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ignores the million plus killed by Saddam’s wars and genocides are unlikely to educate the public on the whys and wherefores behind their rhetoric.

But none of this is new.

The veterans of World War I were celebrated when they returned, but soon the elites turned against them, spawning a literature promoting pacifism, and nihilistic anti heroes as veterans.

The irony, of course, is that one veteran, seeing his friends stoic heroism portrayed as a dupe, responded by making the common soldier of his regiment the true hero of his book: for in Lord of the Rings, the character of Sam Gamgee was based on the quiet courage of the common soldiers of Tolkien’s regiment…

Yet the ordinary folks in the British commonwealth still celebrate “Remembrance Day” or in the common expression, “Poppy Day”, because of the poppy flowers sold to commemorate those that dotted Flander’s Fields.
Societies have more than one way to remember the past: Religious feasts, fiestas, holidays, and customs are also the keepers of memory.

For example, we say “bless you” when someone sneezes, we remember the plague; our children sing “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” in memory of Bloody Mary. The Jews celebrate Chanukah to remember the rebellion of the Maccabees seeking freedom of religion, and Catholics remember the Battle of Lepanto with a feast day to the Virgin Mary, to thank her from saving Europe from the Ottoman Empire’s Armies.

So today is a day of many remembrances:It is Remembrance Day, or Poppy day, the day to remember the War to End All Wars.

In the US, it is Veterans Day, the day to remember the courage, quiet heroism, and sacrifices of the veterans who stood against the tyrants of the 20th century.

It is the Birthday of the US Marines, of whom it is said that one has no better friend, but no worse enemy.

And it is the feast-day of Saint Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who later converted to Christianity and resigned the Army, since as a soldier of Christ he could not take a life. Later, he became a monk and a bishop, showing that war, even against barbarians, can be fought with the weapons of peace: education, compassion, and a religious faith that sees one’s enemies as people to be loved.

The wishes of St. Martin to be at peace with all, however, is ironic, since 400 years later, it was at Tours that Charles Martel won his great battle, that stopped the Saracen expansion into Europe, thereby saving European culture.

So we come full circle.

The irony is that today celebrates both war and peace, pacifism and heroism.

And for those who know history, a day to remember that there is a time of war, and a time of peace.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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