On November 11th, 1918, at eleven o'clock in the morning ("the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"), the guns fell silent on the Western Front, ending the conflict known then as "The Great War" and later as "The First World War" - for all its horror merely a prelude to the more horrendous conflict to come.
November 11th came to be called "Armistice Day" in honor of the armistice between the Allies and Germany that marked the traditional end of the First World War (fighting actually continued in other areas, particularly Russia and portions of the Ottoman Empire), and it is still observed as a national holiday in many countries. In Great Britain, it is known as "Remembrance Day," and after World War II, it became known in the United States as "Veterans Day." Nowadays, instead of commemorating the sacrifices of World War I, it is a day set aside to honor all the veterans, living and dead, who have answered the country's call to service. Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is the day of remembrance for those killed in military service.
Whatever your feelings about war as a way of settling differences between nations, you can probably agree that the common soldier who leaves the safety and comfort of his or her home and steps into the jaws of danger in the service of the nation deserves our thanks and our respect. Today, only a tiny fraction of eligible citizens choose to serve in the armed forces, placing the burden of service on a disproportionately small number of people representing a small wedge of America - largely the southern and western states and the lower and lower-middle classes. Very few Americans have any real connection to their military, or to the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan - in the words of one service member a few years ago: "America is not at war. America is at the mall. The Army is at war."
Our sitting president, who is the constitutionally-designated Commander in Chief of the armed forces, has never served in the military. And the number of veterans serving in Congress - the body that actually declares war - is depressingly small: 26 in the Senate (out of 100) and 95 in the House (out of 435) ... and that was before last week's elections.
I find that a sobering thought.
On this Veterans' Day, take a moment to honor those who make the sacrifices most of us would rather not, and defend the freedoms we hold dear.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.