Today is Veteran's Day in the U.S. but really its origins stem from the end of the First World War, known as the Great War, or the War to End All Wars-- it was called Armistance Day (in Great Britian it is still called Rememberance Day). The end of the war was occurred as arbitrarily as it began. Europeans liked the idea of ending on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month because they believed that the piece they achieved was saving the world from itself at the last possible moment.
Of course this war to end all wars was really the war that began all wars since that day in 1918. The people in Paris drew the maps of the middle east, leading to Iraq's civil war, the lack of a Kurdish state, Israel/Palestine, and dictators throughout the middle east. (those kings were installed by the Brits) The Treaty of Paris lead to Vietnam's civil war and American involvement (Ho Chi Mehn was a dishwasher at the conference and tried to get audience with the Big Three, but they ignored him). The drew up Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, one turned out horrific and the other split relatively amicibly. They drew up Poland and humilated Germany. They divvied up Africa at a later conference in Berlin, creating the idiotic borders we know today.
I could go on but I also want to focus on the more immediate impact of that war. Architecture and Art were destroyed, cities leveled. Hundreds of thousands died for no territorial gain among the leading countries. Among them were brilliant poets, writers, and artists. Many brilliant ideas that could have been died in Flanders Fields. An entire generation was erased, only to see the next one perish a few decades later.
Even the so-called Good War, World War II, has been shown to have been in reality merely a necessary war, thanks to Ken Burns. Each war is filled with its incompetant greedy military leaders, idiotic domestic leadership, the suffering of millions.
By now I think we can all agree that the current war in Iraq was not necessary but was a war of choice. And the longer we remain in that the country, the worse the mistake becomes. America cannot afford to have Iraq be as chaotic as it is today, but thanks to this Administration we can no longer serve any positive purpose in that country. Equally sadly, few nations are willing to step in when we inevitably leave.
Today is a day to remember the sacrifices of those who have served our country, who have been "rewarded" with death, dismemberment, brain injury, disabilities, pyschological traumas, and homelessness. But it also remains a day to remember the aweful cost of war and the need to avoid it.
So rather than merely hoisting a flag, giving a speech in a smoky VFW hall, or shaking a vet's hand, we need leaders who will think about this horid past and present towards thinking up a future were peace will become not just the pause between wars but era that last generations.