Veterans have fought in wars – and fought against them

If President Donald Trump had his way, the nation would be celebrating the centennial of the World War I armistice on Nov. 11 with a massive military parade in Washington, D.C.

But that won’t be happening. When the Pentagon announced the president’s decision to cancel the parade, they blamed local politicians for driving up the cost of the proposed event.

There may have been other reasons.

Veterans were especially outspoken in their opposition. Retired generals and admirals feared such a demonstration would embarrass the U.S., placing the nation in the company of small-time authoritarian regimes that regularly parade their tanks and missiles as demonstrations of their military might. And some veterans’ organizations opposed the parade because they saw it as a celebration of militarism and war.

Veterans of past wars, as I document in my book “Guys Like Me: Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace” have long been at the forefront of peace advocacy in the United States.

Trump was inspired to have a U.S. military parade after watching this French one in 2017. AP/Carolyn Kaster

Politicians’ betrayal?

Over the past year, the advocacy group Veterans for Peace joined a coalition of 187 organizations that sought to “Stop the Military Parade; Reclaim Armistice Day.” There is a deep history to veterans’ peace advocacy.

As a young boy, I got my first hint of veterans’ aversion to war from my grandfather, a World War I Army veteran. Just the mention of Veterans Day could trigger a burst of anger that “the damned politicians” had betrayed veterans of “The Great War.”

In 1954 Armistice Day was renamed as Veterans Day. In previous years, citizens in the U.S. and around the world celebrated the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 not simply as the moment that war ended, but also as the dawning of a lasting peace.

“They told us it was ‘The War to End All Wars,’” my grandfather said to me. “And we believed that.”

The New York Tribune on Nov. 11, 1918. Library of Congress

Veterans for peace

What my grandfather spoke about so forcefully was not an idle dream. In fact, a mass movement for peace had pressed the U.S. government, in 1928, to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an international “Treaty for the Renunciation of War,” sponsored by the United States and France and subsequently signed by most of the nations of the world.

A State Department historian described the agreement this way: “In the final version of the pact, they agreed upon two clauses: the first outlawed war as an instrument of national policy and the second called upon signatories to settle their disputes by peaceful means.”