By Ann Wright
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 13 November 2007
Could you ever imagine that Veterans Day was originally enacted as a day for world peace? Not by the way veterans who stand for peace are treated in Veterans Day ceremonies! Yet, according to the Veterans Affairs web site, Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally a US legal holiday to honor the end of World War I and to honor the need for world peace.
When it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, to honor the end of World War I, the US Congress stated: Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations. In 1938, the US Congress codified its earlier resolution by legislation naming November 11 as Armistice Day and dedicating the day "to the cause of world peace." In 1954, after World War II and the Korean Conflict, Congress - at the urging of the veterans service organizations - amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars and a national holiday still dedicated to "the cause of world peace."
Yet, now we have many Veterans Day organizers who want to silence "peace" on Veterans Day. This past weekend we "celebrated" Veterans Day, a day for all veterans and a day for "world peace", or so I thought, until I went to Long Beach, California. Like so many aspects of our military, events surrounding Veterans Day have been privatized. The City of Long Beach has given Veterans Day to a private group, a group that decides which veterans can participate in a Veterans Day parade.
The private organizers in Long Beach said veterans groups that are against the war and for peace were not allowed to march in the parade, as they did not have the proper "spirit."
Yet, the legislation enacting Veterans Day states that "the cause of world peace" is the goal of Veterans Day.
Private citizens who have never served in the military are authorized by the City of Long Beach to decide what Veterans Day stands for and which veterans are the "real" veterans - the veterans who meet their agenda.
In another strange anomaly about Veterans Day, in Santa Barbara, California, members of the Veterans for Peace chapter have had to carry their discharge papers in order to march in the city's Veterans Day parade. The same requirement was not made for Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion or any other veterans group participating in the parade. This year the Boston police arrested eighteen members of Veterans for Peace when they refused to move from the front of the podium at City Hall Plaza when parade officials wouldn't allow them to carry signs opposing the war in Iraq while marching in Boston's Veterans Day parade. Some of the protesters wore gags over their mouths, which they said symbolized the fact that they were permitted to march in the parade but not exercise their right to free speech. According to the Boston Globe, Nate Goldschlag, a veteran standing in front of the podium, said: "Our free speech and civil rights are being abridged here. We should be allowed to express our opposition to this war."
In Atlanta, the Veterans for Peace Chapter and the American Veterans for Equal Rights Georgia (AVER), a gay and lesbian veterans group, had their applications to participate in the Parade initially denied with this comment from the parade organizers: "Application denied. Failure to follow guidelines in previous year." Last year the VFP Atlanta chapter had a truck with a banner that said, "BRING THEM HOME ... NOW!" The truck also had a banner with a picture of First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq because he believed the invasion of Iraq was illegal. After first denying their applications, the association in charge of the Atlanta Veterans Day parade later said the groups could march but could not display any messages of peace, in the case of VFP, or show any "public displays of affection," in the case of AVER. "This is not a political parade. We don't allow anyone out there to promote ideas. There is no agenda allowed," Melvin Myers, president of the Parade Association, told Atlanta Progressive News.
In the Denver parade this year, the local Veterans for Peace chapter that had walked in the parade last year was told it was not invited back because its members were against the war. The day before the parade, a representative of the Denver United Veterans Council, the group organizing the city of Denver Veterans Day parade said there had been a misunderstanding and issued a late invitation to the VFP chapter. Frank Bessinger, a member of the Veterans for Peace group, said, "We didn't want to have to fight to get into the parade, we didn't want to have to protest. We're a veterans group and we just wanted to be in the Veterans Day Parade."
We veterans know that veterans have always had a variety of opinions on policies of every administration. During the Vietnam War, many, if not most, of those who served in Vietnam disagreed with the United States invasion and occupation of Vietnam. Today, many who have served in Iraq disagree with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but despite their disagreement they served. Over 70 percent of the American people disagree with the war in Iraq, so why should veterans who also disagree with the war not be allowed to march in a Veterans Day parade?
City leaders should not give private organizations the right to deny veterans who believe in peace a place in a parade on a national veterans holiday created for peace!
Next year, we should put pressure on our city councils early to ensure the right of all veterans organizations to march in Veterans Day parades on a day dedicated to peace.
Ann Wright served 29 years in the US military (13 years on active duty and 16 years in the US Army Reserves. She also was a US diplomat for 16 years and served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She helped reopen the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December, 2001. She resigned from the US diplomatic corps in March 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" that will be available in January 2008.