Veterans for Peace and allies stand across from the Church of Assumption in silence. // Photo by Alexia Suarez
The bells at the Church of Assumption in downtown Bellingham rang 11 times at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11. Their slow, rhythmic beats commemorated the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. Local activist organization Veterans for Peace and Armistice Day supporters stood in silence across the street, flags for peace waving in the crisp autumn air.
The first Armistice Day at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of November 1918 signaled the halt of World War I and the start of a new era of peace, said Stan Parker, Army veteran and a member of the Veterans for Peace Board of Directors.
The Bellingham celebration was organized by the Veterans for Peace chapter 111. Among them was Gene Marx, a Vietnam Navy veteran and Veterans for Peace local communication coordinator.
“I’d like people to realize Armistice Day’s original intent was to venerate peace; this was supposedly the war to end all wars,” Marx said. “And as it turns out, it was the war that ended all peace.”
Parker said he came to the rally in remembrance of those who lost their lives in war and also those affected by war. His call-to-action: war is not the answer to the problems of the world.
“There was a time in the world’s history when we really believed we could have world peace, where war was not the answer, and world peace was possible,” Parker said.
Today, Armistice Day is celebrated in countries across the world. Across the Canadian border on Sunday, crowds of citizens wore red poppy pins as they gathered. The flower is a symbol of remembrance of the emotional and physical expenses of war. The United States made the decision to replace Armistice Day with Veterans Day in 1968, even moving the holiday to a Monday to encourage commerce, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lisa Distler, whose late husband, Bill Distler, was a Vietnam veteran and a founding member of Veterans for Peace, said the message of Armistice Day is one simply of peace; to put one’s arms down and come to an agreement that we as humans shouldn’t kill one another to solve our issues. She believes the newer U.S.-coined holiday has lost that message.
She said Veterans Day glorifies the act of going to war which is counterproductive to having a more inclusive and peaceful world, or recognizing the trauma that violence can inflict.
Daniel Kirkpatrick describes himself as a lifelong pacifist who comes from a long line of pacifists. His father was a conscious objector to World War II – his brother, an objector to the Vietnam War.
“We need a shift in a big way, we need a huge shift in our patterns of funding and supporting militarism and we need to shift towards a peace orientation that will bring prosperity to people across the world,” Kirkpatrick said.
The community remains optimistic.
“Until we get to the point where we want to have peace and our congressional representatives worry more about having peace, more than they’re concerned with their profits, then we will have an end to the fighting,” Marx said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe peace couldn’t be attainable.”
Veterans for Peace meets on the third Friday of each month at the Community Connections building, part of the Community Food Co-op downtown. More information can be found on their website, www.vfpbellingham.org.