On Monday, we as a nation pay special tribute to our military veterans. It reinforces the respect that right-thinking Americans ought to show them every day of the year, not just on Veterans Day.
Their devotion, the risks they accepted, the sacrifices they made in years and hardship as well as in blood -- all these things deserve our reverence and our thanks.
We tend to think of our military men and women as warriors, and certainly they are that, but the military does more than fight wars. It builds bridges, it strengthens towns and schools, it teaches self-reliance, it leads technological and scientific innovation, it spreads the word of liberty, it protects the nation.
In its finest hours, it protects the peace.
The peace. As much as we reflect this day on war and sacrifice, let us also commit anew to the daunting quest for peace.
Veterans Day was born in 1954 out of the spirit of an earlier holiday, Armistice Day, first observed in 1919 and then formalized in 1938.
Monday, after all, is not just Veterans Day. It marks the 95th anniversary of the practical end of "the war to end all wars," a solemn date that was not commemorated until months later when the Treaty of Versailles finally was signed.
World War I is distant memory now. Those who fought it no longer have breath. Some died in battle, but most died in dusty mortal passage. Each succumbed to the relentless tide of time and eventual deterioration. This is the way of the world. We all must succumb to the same relentless tide. Regrettable as that is, it is a law of nature.
But more poignantly, that generation's once-optimistic dream of an end to war barely has breath today as well. In this country alone, we have endured six major conflicts since that time -- World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq -- as well as an assortment of other military actions.
Think about this: Since the end of World War I, Americans have been at war almost as much time as we have lived in peace.
"The war to end all wars" sadly ended nothing of the kind. Today, if anything, the future appears more threatening than the past. We live in a world of so much hope and promise, but one also darkened ominously by constant tension, pervasive danger and ever-present hostility.
"The most persistent sound which reverberates through man's history," author Arthur Koestler wrote, "is the beating of war drums."
Is this, we are forced to wonder, ultimately a characteristic of humanity, part of the inseparable reptilian core left from our evolution? Could it be that war, as much as gravity and death, is a law of nature too? Is the tide toward war as relentless and inescapable as the tide toward our own mortality?
On this, the eve of Veterans Day, we refuse to accept such inevitability.
To accept the inevitability of war is to ensure it.
To accept the inevitability of war is to dishonor the sacrifice of all those who have served in our military.
Yes, on Veterans Day, we thank those dedicated men and women who have served the nation in times of war and peace. Of course, we thank them. Their service has been a great gift that has made our security and prosperity possible.
But even more importantly, we honor them. And that requires something more than a parade and patriotic speeches. It requires a real commitment on our part to use the time of security, peace and prosperity they've bestowed to advance the idealistic Wilsonian vision that human beings could put an end to the prospect of war.
"In war," writer Jose Narosky observed, "there are no unwounded soldiers."
Let us thank our veterans, thank all our wounded soldiers. To genuinely honor them, let us work for a day when none of their descendants must live in harm's way.