November 11, 2018 marks the 100th commemoration of the signing of the armistice agreement in France between World War I Allies and Germany. The goal was to stop hostilities on the western front of the war. It took effect at 11 o’clock that morning, expiring after 36 days. It wasn’t until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 that a formal peace agreement was ultimately reached. In the United States and other allied countries, the day is celebrated nationally as Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, Armistice Day. Germany does not celebrate this day in particular, but has observed a national day of mourning in November since 1952.
One hundred years of commemorating brave men and women who sacrificed greatly for the freedoms so many of us now enjoy - Freedom is clearly not free and everyone does not have equal access to it. We are still a world at constant war. That agreement, inked a century ago, did not bring long lasting peace after all. There was another World War and so many ensuing wars and ongoing global conflicts: The Korean and Vietnamese Wars, Bay of Pigs and the Cambodian Civil War, The Wars in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Uganda, and Yemen. So many wars in just the last century.
Freedom isn’t free, but must the cost be the loss of countless human lives? Where are the new and viable alternatives to war put forward in diplomatic and impacting ways? Have we resigned ourselves as a human society that wars are inevitable? Will the parades held in small and large towns across this country be enough gratitude for children left orphaned, parents left childless, warriors wounded emotionally and physically? After millennia of brutally fighting those unlike us, when will we acknowledge peace building deserves a bigger place at the global table? Can we devote resources to conflict resolution and systems of reconciliation as we do to fighter jets and tankers? Equal resources? Can we search for common ground and connection with others not like us, explore dialogue and mediation, interfaith understanding and cultural exchange as tangible ways forward instead of heavy artillery leaving blood in its wake?
The wars abroad have come home to our communities in the United States. Wednesday, November 7th’s mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California was the 307th mass shooting this year alone. A 28 year old Marine veteran killed 12 people that night before turning his weapon on himself. He served nearly five years as a military machine gunner deployed in Afghanistan.
There will be parades commemorating the sacrifices of our servicemen and women, the laying of wreathes and flags at burial sites, poppies on lapels, but when will the elephant in the room be seen? Not all veterans are coming home unscathed by the wars they fought. There are demons clawing their backs and severe trauma biting their necks and stealing their sanity.
How far sweeping is this problem? I will leave that to the professionals tackling the severe issues returning vets are facing. Families and communities are often left adjusting to new normals as loved ones come home. Many returning vets are true heroes, like Daniel Manrique who gave his life trying to save victims of Wednesday’s shooting. Manrique was also a Marine who served in Afghanistan. He was a radio operator deployed in 2007. He came home in 2010 and dedicated his life to helping emotionally scarred veterans overcome isolation. It feels ironic he was killed by a fellow Marine he would have gladly supported in transitioning back into civilian life.
It is not ingratitude that causes me to pause this centennial Veteran’s Day, but the consistent loss of life on battlefields and street corners the world over. We must find a new way forward. Killing as a result of difference and disagreement, greed, politics, gold, diamonds, oil, land, race, ethnicity, religion, class, slavery, and all the myriad reasons countries go to war is not a viable solution. We can not continue to kick this proverbial can down an aging road for some other generation to deal with. We must ask the difficult questions, allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, tell the truth as we know it and allow space for something new to form where bodies have died.
Global Impact Program Manager