by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace
This weekend, the United States celebrates Veterans Day, originally Armistice (Latin for “stilling arms”) Day. We mark the famous 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the ceasefire agreement ending the horribly protracted four-year First World War.*
For several decades the day was celebrated as the conclusion of “the war to end all wars.” However, after a second horrendous World War from 1939 until 1945, that reason for celebrating this “armistice” was seen as a mockery. So, in 1954 President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day. Further, a bloody war in Korea, the frightening Cold War and countless more since (Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq War, War in Ukraine to name a few) and the current dreadful Israeli genocidal attacks on Gaza have underscored the futility of believing that
war can ever end wars.
Connected directly with this history is an older commemorative observance, Memorial Day. This has evolved into a growing consciousness of the incredible number of U.S. American military personnel who have lost their lives in this continued series of wars initiated, engaged in and even fomented by the United States.**
If there is any saving grace in all of this it is the growing conviction that “war is not the answer,” that there is a better way to deal with all conflicts, especially those between nations, short of a thoughtless recourse to military violence. Put another way, the oft-used “just war theory,” which in many cases has actually facilitated armed conflict, is being superseded by an ethic of nonviolence.
Leading voices from around the world have joined in explaining and promoting “just peace” solutions before automatic military action. The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is one of these leading voices. It offers both a theological underpinning for this ethic as well as on-the-ground examples of its successful implementation. And as an authoritative voice as that of Pope Francis has joined in urging humanity to accept and adopt nonviolence as a way of life.
The pope’s 2017 World Day of Peace message spoke forcefully and eloquently of nonviolence as “a style of politics for peace.” More recently, the Holy Father on many occasions has emphasized the need to move beyond the “just war theory.” Pax Christi USA has gleaned several of these papal statements as for example: “A war is always – always – the defeat of humanity, always… There is no such thing as a just war: they do not exist.” (March 16, 2022)
Several thoughts come to mind on this Veterans Day:
- Powerful national leaders [usually men], in comfortable, safe silos deciding that a real or perceived insult to their country, and by extension their own inflated egos, demand an immediate military reprisal.
- Therefore, millions of brave and patriotic young women and men are sent by these same leaders to kill and be killed by other young men and women.
- Military hospitals filled with broken bodies and minds, a direct result of these leaders’ fixed ideas.
- Thousands of homeless men and women roaming the streets of the world’s cities, victims of
the euphemistic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, results of the insanity of their leaders’
We must make mention here of a dream/hope/demand from one of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative leaders, Pax Christi International’s Marie Dennis. She envisions an annual Peacemakers Day given equal importance as Veterans/Memorial Days: a salute to millions who strive for “a better way.”
We conclude with a hope-filled paraphrase of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous statement: “The arc of history bends toward nonviolence.”
*It is a tragic fact but all too significant that 2,738 men died on that last day of World War I – many after the Armistice was signed!
**Relatively little mention is made in these observances of the overwhelming number of other countries’ losses in these same conflicts.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the 2023 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.