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November 11, 2014
The following is an article posted in the November 2014 issue of The Beacon, the newsletter of University Baptist Church in Seattle, WA (a BPFNA Partner Congregation. Originally from Veterans for Peace Central Florida (VFPCFL), October 23, 2014.
This year, American Veterans for Peace chapters are asking cities, towns, schools, churches and other houses of worship around the U.S. and the world to reconsider the original intent of creating a public recognition of November 11th by adopting a procedure of bell ringing so as to honor peace and encourage their congregations to denounce war as a means of settling differences.
It was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 that World War I was halted, as a result of the signing of the armistice between the Allied Nations and Germany. In the years to follow, people from around the world have stopped what they were doing at 11:00 a.m. local time on November 11th in silent remembrance of the point in time when what’s been known as the “war to end all wars” came to an end after taking the lives of tens of millions of people.
During other commemorations of that peaceful pledge begun on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918, bells have been rung from around the world on November 11th. On May 13, 1938, the U.S. Congress passed a law that made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday: “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”
However, the name Armistice Day was later changed to Veterans Day by an act of Congress in 1954. American novelist and World War II veteran Kurt Vonnegut wrote about his war experiences, and in particular his time as an American prisoner of war surviving the horrific fire-bombing of the German city of Dresden, in his famous novel Slaughterhouse Five. Years later, Vonnegut reflected on the U.S. government’s changing the official recognition of November 11th from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in the following way:
“… November 11th, accidentally my birthday, was once a sacred day called ‘Armistice Day’. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind. Armistice Day has become Veterans Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans Day is not. So I will throw Veterans Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.”
Some members of Veterans For Peace feel that the substitution of the word ‘Armistice’ with ‘Veterans’ politicized the day by changing the focus from peace to war in its celebrating and honoring military veterans and the wars they served in. Too often rhetoric and patriotic symbols are used instead of genuine compensation for the extraordinary sacrifices and services of military personnel. Many feel that the ringing of bells is a much more fitting recognition of the pledge for peace agreed to on that morning in November of 1918 when the ‘Voice of God’ was heard. Sadly, gun salutes and fighter plane flyovers have been used as the norm in more recent years to mark that sacred day. However, at the urging of Veterans for Peace across the U.S., each year on November 11th hundreds of churches across the United States and the world join in ringing bells — along with urging their congregations to continue to work for peace.