Break out the poppies and find a veteran to hug because it is Armistice Day! One of my very favorite days. For those of you who don’t know: my name’s Lindsey, hey, and the only thing you need to know about me, if nothing else, is that I read All Quiet on the Western Front when I was eighteen and it completely changed my view of veterans, military, war, history, and the trauma associated with all of that.
I grew up surrounded by servicemen: my great-grandfather Herb fought in WWII; grandfather Tom was also a WWII veteran; grandpa Dave was stationed in Germany; my cousin Paul has served in the Marines for the last twenty years; uncle Bud, uncle Jim, and uncle Bob all served in Vietnam, and that’s not it but I’m just bragging at this point so I’ll stop.
Now as much as I hate, despise, find little to no excuse for war, I love these men too much to express in any way besides screaming (which I am doing right now, you just can’t hear it). Much to the chagrin of old classmates and some left-leaning politicians, I have found that you can, indeed, hate the wars and love the veterans who fought in them. I like capitalism, our free-market economy, and *love* free speech and press and expression. And our vets do, too – so much so that they sacrifice their youth, their time, energy, stability, their bodies, and very often their lives to protect those freedoms.
War is, quite inarguably, the worst event to experience, by all accounts. It is humanity at its most gruesome, its most unforgiving. It takes innocence, naivety, and curiosity and turns it into fear – fear of the other, of oneself. It pushes its survivors to the edge of oblivion only to pull them back at the last moment, just after forcing witness to the tremendous loss it incurs.
In memory of that loss and devastation:
One of the deadliest conflicts in human history, World War I took the lives of nearly 38 million people, both military and civilian. The first day of the Battle of the Somme alone claimed the lives of 76,710 men and is considered the bloodiest day in British military history. The war left a battered and bruised Germany absolutely ravaged and set the stage for the most infamous genocide to take place a short 15 years later; it dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and absolutely destroyed the French economy.
116,708 American military personnel perished (and we were only in it for a year).
Armistice Day is commemorated every year to mark the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918.
While the First World War was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, the Second World War was the deadliest conflict in human history. 50 to 80 million people died – the majority of them civilians. That’s 3% of the world’s population.
It included the genocide of 6 million European Jews along with an undocumented number of Roma peoples and homosexuals, and at least 1.9 million ethnic Poles, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war ever. In Asia and the Pacific, roughly 7.5 million civilians, mostly Chinese, were killed by Japanese occupation forces, and 25% of the people in the Soviet Union were wounded or killed (that’s 27 million people).
419,490 American troops died, 6,603 of them on D-Day alone.
The first of two large-scale wars America fought to contain the spread of communism, the Korean War (frequently referred to as The Forgotten War due to its censored coverage and over-shadowing by WWII and the Vietnam War) left both North and South Korea virtually destroyed, claiming the lives of around 600,000 civilians and 406,000 North Korean soldiers.
36,516 American troops died.
The Vietnam War
Perhaps the most hotly debated war in American history, the Vietnam War killed an estimated
2 million Vietnamese civilians
1.1 million North Vietnamese troops
200,000 South Vietnamese troops
Approximately 58,000 U.S. troops died, and millions of those who did not returned home with gruesome battle scars. Various psychological surveys suggest that some 271,000 veterans of the war may still have full post-traumatic stress disorder, and the lack of resources currently available to them means that Vietnam veterans suffer from one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.
All of this is to help answer the question: “Lindsey, why do you love Armistice Day? That is such a weird holiday to even notice, let alone celebrate wyd.” You make a fair point.
I love Armistice Day because it represents humanity’s tenacity, its dedication to just fucking make it through. If the Jews can survive kidnapping, slave labor, and gas chambers
if the Russians can survive the most extreme forms of censorship
if Germany can survive xenophobia and racism and transform into a global superpower less than half a century later
we will be just fine.
Armistice Day represents the unification of us all: the people who survived not only the conflicts of the last century, but every conflict to ever take place ever. And that includes the ancient wars between homo-sapiens and the Neanderthals.
Throughout genocides and huntings and loss and relocations and madness, humans have found a way to keep on truckin’.
I love us. I love the veterans in my life who have witnessed unspeakable tragedy and have somehow navigated through that, and rather than turning cold and hardened to the world and its people who very often take that suffering for granted, choose to be beacons of kindness. I love you so, so much.
And I think we’re going to be okay for a little awhile.