Veterans Day

The flags flew on the streets of Fertile and the bank was closed. At one cafe, veterans were given a free piece of pie.

I am in favor of Veterans Day being a bigger holiday than it is. Originally Armistice Day, November 11 is the day World War I, at the time known as the Great War, ended.

World War I has to rank as one of the most meaningless slaughters of human beings ever undertaken. It should be remembered and taught more thoroughly. As it is, World War I is shunted to the side because it lacks the compelling moral purpose of World War II.

In 1914, Europe seemed to be longing for a war. They hadn't experienced the American Civil War, so the Europeans, at least some of the leaders, thought that war, if it broke out, would be a relatively mild affair. It wasn't. Armaments had advanced while strategy and tactics had not. Millions of men were poured needlessly into the fire of machine guns, long after the commanders knew that there is no way such charges could succeed.

In the end, little was gained. And an entire generation of Europe's men were wiped out.

The foolish slaughter of World War I, which, when it became apparent, led to the impression that we should avoid all war at all costs, helped make World War II worse by delaying the Allies response to Hitler, who himself arose out of the bitter feelings and economic devastation in Germany created by the unwise Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I by punishing the already war-weary Germans with bills they could never pay.

To make a long lecture short, World War I should be remembered and studied simply because it was so very senseless.

I enjoyed lunch today with one of my favorite World War II veterans, eighty-six year old Harding Vidden. He flew bombing missions over Nazi targets. His story deserves a book, as he survived a bombing run which ended in complete disaster when twenty-some American bombers were sent on a mission without fighter cover and were attacked by 200 or so Nazi planes.

Harding is one of my heroes. One time he graciously agreed to show me his pictures and tell me some stories of his war experiences, and I will never forget it.

Honoring our veterans doesn't mean we should not critically examine the historical evidence about why and how wars were fought. In fact, a good way to honor veterans is to study our conflicts and see how they could have been avoided, or how they could have been better fought. Every one of our wars, even World War II, has been filled with mistakes which should not be repeated.

Just as importantly, when you hear the veterans stories and realize the horrible toll war takes on those who fight it, you become motivated to make sure it doesn't happen again.

No two people will draw the same lessons from the study of history. It is the debate over what a given event in history means which is important. For instance, many people think we are standing at a crossroads in history where we need to stop Islamic militants before they become as powerful as Hitler. Others think we are trumping up a fairly pitiful bunch of rag-tag vandals into a bigger enemy than necessary in order to justify an aggressive foreign policy which will only lead to more conflict.

That debate won't be settled soon. But if it is informed by an honest study of history, a study which proceeds without ideological assumptions, the debate will be more likely to result in solid, well-considered actions.

Look out when people claim we have moved into a new era, an era where the lessons of history have been made irrelevant. To me, history shows that the while technology changes, human nature doesn't. Whenever we think we have escaped it, we are cruelly yanked back to the reality that we should listen to the lessons of the past.