November 11, 1919, otherwise known as “Armistice Day,” was supposed to mark the end of the “war to end all wars.” For a brief time, there was widespread recognition across Europe and the Americas that the destructive ability of industrial warfare was not sustainable or congruent with our species, our planet, or our collective sanity as human beings. Mustard gas, automatic weapons, and aerial combat were seen as tools that would ensure mutual, indiscriminate destruction of soldiers and civilians. Gone from the battlefield were the delusions of glory and valor that had typified — and in many cases had even been the primary motivations of — war for millennia. It was recognized that from that point forward, all that would matter in the theater of war was which side had the more powerful machines at their disposal.

Obviously, the idea that nations would somehow be able to find peaceful solutions for their differences after experiencing the hellish violence that enshrouded Europe during those years has not come to fruition. It has also been said that “World War Two started on the day that World War One ended,” and looking at history it is apparent that the United States has been involved in some form of armed conflict either directly or by proxy since the end of the Second World War.

Albert Einstein famously declared: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Perhaps Einstein didn’t foresee that in a sense World War II never really ended. It seems that it could more accurately be said of World War I that it was “the beginning of never-ending war.” It is clear that such a state is not sustainable in the long run. Maybe it is true that World War I was the war to end all wars — the twist being that we are still fighting it.

Armistice Day is still celebrated in Europe. It is an annual recognition that peace is better than war, and of the unspeakably destructive acts of which nations are capable. It is also an opportunity to reflect on how lucky any of us are to be alive, especially given the advent of nuclear weapons in the intervening years.

It seems trite to talk about nukes, and that fear has largely been assuaged by successive generations managing not to vaporize themselves out of existence, but I am fearful that most people have forgotten about that fear. Given the other existential threats that loom over our civilization (a term I use loosely) in perpetuity, i.e. climate change, perhaps it is too much for our collective psyche to handle. It seems that as a society we have embraced denialism and short-term thrills as a guiding ethos.

Gone from the political dialogue are any allusions to “the posterity,” and from that it can be deduced that as a society we are mainly concerned about two things: our physical survival, and our immediate enjoyment of the present. Perhaps that mentality is responsible for the astonishing statistic reported by Credit Suisse earlier this month that the wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population now owns half of the world’s wealth.

Donald Trump is the embodiment of this denialism and hedonism, and in that sense it is fitting that he is now president — the silver lining being that more people are reawakening to the fear posed by nuclear war.



But, back to Armistice Day. It was in 1954 that President Eisenhower, the same president who prophetically warned us of the “military-industrial complex,” officially changed the name and the focus of the holiday. Veterans Day is now celebrated in the U.S. Undoubtedly, veterans deserve at least one day every year to be recognized for their great contributions to and sacrifices for our society, but that this holiday should come at the expense of the one day every year that everywhere else is celebrating peace is telling. America doesn’t value peace, we value militarism.

One hundred years ago was a time of great turmoil both abroad and domestically. The Labor Movement was in full swing, and the Industrial Workers of the World (the “I.W.W.” a neat little inverse of “W.W.I.” who were also known as the “Wobblies”) were busy organizing unions to stand up to the great exploitations of capital. They also recognized that the men being sent off to fight and die in these wars were not the men who stood to gain from fighting in them. They recognized that the working people of all nations shared much more in common with each other, and it was not because workers were in conflict that war was being fought. This is precisely why they called themselves the Industrial Workers of the World.

They agitated and organized against nationalism and xenophobia, which they recognized as tools used by the ruling class to divide the working class and the poor against each other based on ethnic and religious lines. They were gaining influence and momentum at home and posed a real threat to the domination of the county by the robber barons and tycoons of the day. Not to be so easily usurped, the capitalist class knew that one way to unify the country and undermine the socialist threat was to go to war with a foreign power. In doing so, they were able to label the Wobblies as German sympathizers and prosecute them under the recently passed Espionage Act. The key leadership was imprisoned or forced into exile. The drums of war beat and the flags of nations waved. Nationalism, militarism, and capitalism had won.

One hundred years down the line these same trends are still apparent. Trump appealed to nationalistic nostalgia and stirred xenophobia, and while he has yet to get us into a full-fledged war, we are teetering dangerously on the brink, as soon as he can figure out which country to go fight. While other countries enjoy the fruits that their vital labor movements bestowed to them — universal health care, paid sick time and family leave, and free higher education; we seem content to label anyone who advocates for these things as lazy and entitled. The only people who deserve such guarantees are those who served in the military. Although I would wager that most vets who courageously served did not do so for a vision of a country where the majority are labeled as lazy freeloaders for wanting just a small fraction of the unimaginable wealth that is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority.

So let us have a new holiday that celebrates peace, or at least remember that Veterans Day was once upon a time to reflect that there are alternatives to war. If there truly is a “War on Christmas” being waged by immigrants and Democrats as many conservative politicians would have us believe, then let us commit to principles of the holiday season in more than just a superficial way: peace on earth and goodwill towards men.