Saturday, November 12, 2016

Armistice Day Revisted

It's now 2 1/2 hours into the 12th of November, which means another year of Veterans Day, that made-up, redundant excuse of a holiday that I am going to spend several hundred words talking about. And not once yesterday, in any forum, did anyone mention that November 11 used to be called Armistice Day, that it is a national holiday because it was the date that World War I ended 98 years ago, and that World War I was important to this country because it dragged it, more or less reluctantly but permanently, onto the world, as opposed to hemispheric, stage.
I am of the opinion that we make too much of our armed forces already, without devoting two holidays a year to them. Especially since we have not been in an actual declared war since the 1940's. I'm not a knee-jerk flag waver; I actually pay attention to the world around me, and I don't think there's any veteran under the age of 65 that actually served in a war that was fought as a genuine response to a security threat, with the possible exception of Afghanistan in 2001-4. The armed forces of the United States today serve the interests of the global empire, nothing more and nothing less, and I honestly don't really give a shit whether someone wears a uniform or not, much less think they should be "honored." If that offends you, so be it; you can drink the Kool-Aid until the pitcher's dry, but I know better.
And there was, and is, nothing wrong with keeping November 11 as Armistice Day. World War I was a real conflict, an earth-changing one, and the United States, although an active combatant for only 19 months during it, played a vital role in winning it. WWI was perhaps the most horrific war in history as war as casualties were concerned, and the losses we sustained during the conflict were staggering for the amount of time we spent fighting it. And revisionist histories aside, it was extremely important at the time that the German Empire be defeated; the Kaiser's state did not have the racist agenda of Hitler's, but its plans for defeated Europe weren't a lot different than those of the Nazis. History has been slanted to claim that we entered the war largely because of Wilson's Fourteen Points and "making the world safe for democracy," and I suppose that's a nice little fiction to maintain, to help us feel good about ourselves.
But the real story was much more basic, and actually doesn't need any sugarcoating or excuses. It's been largely forgotten to history, but the most immediate, proximate cause of the United States entering World War I was the acknowledgement by the Kaiser's government that the Zimmerman Telegram was legitimate. The Zimmerman Telegram was a diplomatic communication sent by an official (Zimmerman, obviously) in the German Foreign Office to his counterpart in Mexico, offering Mexico support and logistical help if Mexico would attack the United States, promising the Mexicans that they could recover California, Arizona, New Mexico, and the land other states were carved out of the huge territory ceded by Mexico at the end of the Mexican War 70 years prior. The British had cracked the German diplomatic code long before, and told the Americans of what they had discovered. The Americans of the time acted no different than we did fifteen years ago in the aftermath of 9/11; they wanted to hit back at the people actively trying to hurt us.
I will never, ever understand why the Germans admitted the telegram was genuine. But they did, and within two weeks, war had been asked for and declared, and by the end of the year a whole lot of soldiers were in France. And without American personnel, the war might well have been lost to the Allies in the spring of 1918. Russia had already been defeated, and France was barely hanging on; the Germans threw everything they had left into the Western Front hoping for a decisive result. The Americans there made sure that it was--a defeat for the Germans. And I think that the feat was impressive and important enough that it should continue to be celebrated on its own merits, not folded into a generic "Support the Troops" jingoistic, mindless propaganda exercise.
I've gotten used to the original purpose of the holiday being largely forgotten in recent years, especially after the last WWI vets died several years ago. But I was not prepared for not one word being said about it today. I realize that we're busy with the aftermath of the election and burning questions like "how many more pictures of a naked Melania Trump are out there?"
And it stung me. Not because we are likely to repeat World War I. But because when we lose sight of the events that make our history, and allow ourselves to be fed shaped and selected information as our history instead, we become powerless and malleable to manipulation. If there was one lesson about the United States' participation in World War I, it was that information is power. The US Army at the time had spent two years in northern Mexico trying to find Pancho Villa; if the Mexicans had not been busy with their own revolution and taken the German bait, our entire history would have been a lot different. We were spared a war on North American soil, and thus far we have never had to fight another one. That's reason for celebration in and of itself.
And we already have Memorial Day as an occasion to honor those in the military. One is enough.

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