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A New Focus on the 'War to End All Wars'

Some groups believe the focus of Veterans Day, which was Armistice Day until Congress changed it in 1954, should be on peace rather than war. (Brett Sayles/Pexels)
Some groups believe the focus of Veterans Day, which was Armistice Day until Congress changed it in 1954, should be on peace rather than war. (Brett Sayles/Pexels)
November 9, 2018

BISMARK, N.D. – President Donald Trump is set to be in Paris this weekend to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I.

Adam Hochschild wrote an award-winning book on what was then called 'the War to End All Wars,' a conflict that killed more than nine million soldiers, wounded 21 million more, and also left millions of civilians dead.

Hochschild says the war – which he argues, like most, didn't have to happen – reshaped the 20th century in ways we're still grappling with today.

"It also laid the groundwork for the Second World War and for the Holocaust, by leaving behind a tremendous reservoir of bitterness and hatred and resentment – in Germany, especially – and the need to find scapegoats," says Hochschild.

Hochschild says the legacy of World War I, which leaders on all sides believed would be brief and solve problems, offers lessons worth remembering today as the U.S. makes threats against China and Iran, and prepares to pull out of an arms-control treaty with Russia.

Hochschild doesn't want to minimize the sacrifices of those who served. But he thinks people such as labor leader Eugene Debs and political activist Emma Goldman – both of whom were sent to jail for opposing the war – should be celebrated on this centennial, rather than politicians and generals.

He notes during Goldman's trial, she told the jury her patriotism 'is like the man who loves a woman with open eyes – he's enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults.'

"And when we remember the war and Armistice Day, I want us to remember people like her – like Debs, like their counterparts in England, Germany, France, everywhere – who spoke out against the war at the time," says Hochschild.

Armistice Day was observed as a day to oppose war's devastation for decades in the U.S.; then, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954. Organizations including Veterans for Peace, which has been barred from some Veterans Day events, are working to restore Armistice Day as a day to celebrate peace.

Eric Galatas/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - ND