To readers in the United States, today is Veterans’ Day, when we honor those who served in the nation’s military. It is supposed to be about recognizing living former and current members of the armed services. Memorial Day/ Decoration Day is to honor the dead. That distinction is being lost, although I feel it should be retained. Perhaps the leakage is coming from the Commonwealth and UK. Because heaven knows there are enough things I blame the US media and marketing industry for already. (Psssst. Guys. No Christmas trees until after November 1, please? November 21 would be even better.) Where was I?
Oh yes. Why November 11? I suspect my readers already know. Shooting during The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the First World War (not really but it’s too late to change the name) stopped on the Western Front at eleven AM on November eleven, 1918. The British never saw November 11 as a day to celebrate with boisterous parades, but rather for solemn observation and honor. Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and India followed suit. One reason is because the war came so much closer to the UK, and so many more Commonwealth soldiers and sailors participated, suffered injuries, and died. Another is because, well, the war was over but the peace had not been sorted out yet as of the first Remembrance Day. Fighting continued in Europe until 1922, and Russia remained in a civil war. Third, things were not great in Britain in 1919, given the economic problems, including high unemployment among men of military age. Those who wanted to celebrate were outnumbered by those for whom a grave and thoughtful day to remember felt the most appropriate.
For Britain and the Commonwealth, this is a solemn day. The Aussies also honor ANZAC Day specifically for their troops.
The US came out of WWI a winner, battle casualties and the Influenza aside. And we already had a Memorial/Decoration Day, so November 11 served as a day to honor veterans of WWI, and then all veterans. In the area where I live, the day itself tends to be rather serious, but the week leading up to it is parades and fly overs, banquets and pageants and such to honor living veterans: lots of little kids with flags, people with vintage military vehicles, re-enactors and the like. But this area also has a goodly percentage of the population who served in the military at some point, not as much as San Antonio or Killeen (Ft. Hood) but a larger percentage than some places I’ve lived.
So I raise my glass to those who have served in the US and Commonwealth militaries, and to veterans who served with our allies and friends. But especially the US, because, well, I have my favorites.
For more info about Remembrance Day and some of the discussions surrounding it: www.historyextra.com/remembrance