Veterans Day was formerly known as Armistice Day. It commemorated the day when the “Guns of August,” which had thundered death for four years during the Great War, finally fell silent. This occurred on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Armistice Day was first celebrated a year later, one hundred years ago today.
Armistice Day was a day to hope for a more peaceful future and to remember the war dead with speeches and silences, red poppies and wreaths on cenotaphs (Greek: empty tombs), the playing of the Last Post and parades. And there were many, many dead to remember—more than in any war hitherto in history. The death toll of the Great War was staggering for both the Allies and the Central Powers. One can witness evidence of this even today as virtually every village and hamlet in England, however small, has memorials to local soldiers who died in the Great War. Such was the scope of its fatal reach.
And more was lost than lives in the War, as devastating as this was. Innocence and idealism, faith in progress and trust in institutions were also often lost. They, too, died in the trenches for a “Lost Generation” that emerged from the War.
Nevertheless, when the Great War ended many approached the Armistice with great hope that the world had learned valuable lessons and that the future would be much more peaceful because of it. Thus a century ago on the first Armistice Day, people spoke of the Great War as “a war to end war.” O that this had proved true! Instead the Great War became the prelude to more and even more destructive global wars. Eventually, the very name that history would retrospectively confer on the Great War—World War I—acknowledged that, far from marking the end of war, the Great War became merely the first of yet more wars.
Consequently, after World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day in the USA was renamed Veterans Day. Gone was the idealistic hope for world peace that had been part of its original name and enabling legislation. Its new name recognized, appropriately, the valiant service of all veterans, but it also implicitly acknowledged the ongoing need for ever more warriors in ever more wars. The evolution of Armistice Day to Veterans Day is thus a melancholy testament of humanity’s inability to establish lasting peace.
Given what we know of the natural man and the last days, it should not surprise us that the peace negotiated by the Armistice was transient. I have lived in the shadow of wars and rumors of wars all my life. I suspect that you students will too. Despite this, or maybe because of it, we are expected to become an influence for “peace internationally.” This is what President McKay said at our founding, noting that true peace comes only through obedience to the gospel plan.
So, on this historic Veteran’s Day, as we remember and honor those who have fought and sometimes died for peace and freedom, let us resolve to be agents of peace in our own way by obedience to the gospel plan and by treating others as children of God, our brothers and sisters. Then we shall enjoy God’s graciously reciprocal promise to the peacemakers: those who have treated others as children of God, themselves “shall be called the children of God.” (See Matt. 5:9; 3 Ne. 12:9)