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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Ressurecting Peace | November 7, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake

Whereas, bells worldwide were rung on November 11, 1918 to celebrate and recognize the ending of WWI, "The war to end all wars" and, Whereas, to commemorate that peaceful pledge, bells were rung November 11 for over 35 years, and, Whereas, legislation making November 11 a holiday passed in 1938, " ...a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." and, Whereas, The 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. and, Whereas, the substitution of the word "Armistice" to "Veterans" changes the focus from peace to war by celebrating and honoring warriors and war, and, Whereas, that November date symbolized the nation's desire to hold to a peaceful future and away from war, and, Whereas, too often rhetoric and patriotic symbols are used instead of genuine compensation for the extraordinary sacrifices and services of military personnel, and, Whereas, 90% of victims of wars are now civilians and by honoring only veterans, the public is distracted from the awful price paid by those other than military members, and, Whereas, Chapter #27 has for over 17 years promoted the ringing of a bell eleven times at its ceremonies on November 11 and at other solemn occasions such as funerals to remind the public of that Armistice Day peace pledge, and Whereas, the ringing of bells is so much more fitting and peaceful than the often-practiced gun salutes and fighter plane flyovers, Therefore, be it resolved that Veterans For Peace, Inc. urges its memberships to adopt the procedure of honoring peace by focusing on bell ringing on Armistice Day, November 11 and other solemn occasions.

I remember now, after reading in preparation for this message, as a child the renaming of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. There indeed was a shift, from celebrating peace to celebrating war and those who had put their lives on the line in the service of war. I remember thinking that we already had Memorial Day which was a time for mourning the dead who had died in war. Memorial Day commemorations did not include veterans who were still alive with their wounds – physical, mental, spiritual. I was not, however, aware of the politicization of Armistice Day which led to the name change to Veterans Day. The jubilation that attended initial Armistice Day celebrations morphed into glorification of military prowess. The sacredness was profaned.

November 11, 1918, the nations involved in World War I signed a truce to end the war and its multilayered devastation. There was a movement afoot here in the United States as well as elsewhere to end war as a means of settling differences. The human spirit was in ascendancy in connecting the suffering inflicted on others as contradictory to the best in our faith traditions and moral responsibilities entailed in loving neighbor as self.

The following year, through the efforts of then President Woodrow Wilson and European statespersons, the treaty of Versailles was signed and the League of Nations officially began operations January 10, 1920. The purpose of the League of Nations was to be an intergovernmental agency with the vision and task of working to solve international problems peacefully and thereby preventing war. What a noble aim, one needed desperately today, over one hundred years later.

Prior to both Armistice Day and the League of Nations was the establishment of The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). The United States version was founded in 1915 by sixty-eight pacifists, including A.J. Muste, Jane Addams and Bishop Paul Jones.

Jones as National Secretary wrote in 1921 that the Fellowship of Reconciliation was established as one vehicle to aid in the application of Christian principles to "every problem of life.” In addition to the impossibility of harmonizing war with "the way of Christ," Jones stated that members of the organization had come to believe in the parallel necessity of a "reorganization of Society as will establish it on a Christian basis, so that no individual may be exploited for the profit or pleasure of another.” Muste stated that war was at odds with the spirit of Christ: “War does not bring peace, it merely breeds more wars.”

Jane Addams was very busy that year.

In 1915, at the Hague, while World War One was raging in Europe, Jane Addams presided over an International Congress of 1336 women from 12 warring and neutral nations who met to protest against the war, to work out a plan to end it, and to lay the basis for a sustainable peace. Much of what the Women’s Congress proposed was later included in President Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points.’

Out of this meeting, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom was born, with Jane Addams as its first president. Its aims were and still are “to bring together women of different political beliefs who are united in their determination to study, make known, and help abolish the causes and legitimation of war” and to further by non-violent means equality and economic equity for all . . . without discrimination on religion, or any other grounds whatsoever.

Indeed, there have been valiant efforts to have peace as the ethos, the culture adhesive of the nation.

I am profoundly moved by the organization Veterans for Peace. Its members answered the nation’s call to the military. Many have seen first-hand death on the battlefield, held in their arms fallen comrades, returned disabled in body, mind, and spirit, traumatized by their actions that deny their own ethics and moral DNA.

The stated objective of the group is as follows:

We draw on our personal experiences and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of the true costs and consequences of militarism and war - and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives.

Founded in 1985, Veterans For Peace is a global organization of Military Veterans and allies whose collective efforts are to build a culture of peace by using our experiences and lifting our voices. We inform the public of the true causes of war and the enormous costs of wars, with an obligation to heal the wounds of wars. Our network is comprised of over 140 chapters worldwide whose work includes: educating the public, advocating for a dismantling of the war economy, providing services that assist veterans and victims of war, and most significantly, working to end all wars.

Statement of Purpose

We, as military veterans, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace. To this end we will work, with others both nationally and internationally

1. To increase public awareness of the causes and costs of war

2. To restrain our governments from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations

3. To end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons

4. To seek justice for veterans and victims of war

5. To abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

To achieve these goals, members of Veterans For Peace pledge to use non-violent means and to maintain an organization that is both democratic and open with the understanding that all members are trusted to act in the best interests of the group for the larger purpose of world peace.

It is from VFP that the resolution that began this message was born.

The Armistice of 1918 ended the terrible slaughter of World War I. The U.S. alone had experienced the death of over 116,000 soldiers, plus many more who were physically and mentally disabled. For one moment, at the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month, the world agreed that World War I must be the WAR TO END ALL WARS. There was exuberant joy everywhere, and many churches rang their bells, some 11 times at 11 a.m. on November 11, as the Armistice was signed. It went on until 1954, and then it was forgotten, but now we do this again. We ring the bells 11 times, with a moment of silence, to remember the many soldiers and civilians killed in warfare, and to make our own commitment to work for peace in our family, our community, our nation, and our world.

The song, Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield, is powerful, more powerful and insightful than we often realize. We get the laying down of the sword idea. That has been the central theme of this message so far. There is another laying down that we often miss. That is, the laying down of my shield as well as my sword. This is a critical understanding! For it is the shield that leads to the sword – the shield of defensiveness, the shield of keeping others away, the shield of “protection,” the shield of division, othering, separation. The shield prevents us from grasping, holding, hugging the other as sister, brother, companion on the journey. If you do not lay down the shield, there is no hope for the cessation of war, and other forms of hatred.

Whoever guards their life will lose it, whoever abandons their insecurities for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:39 (Dorsey Blake translation)

Dr. Vincent Harding who with his wife Mrs. Rosemarie Freeney Harding, founded Veterans of Hope penned the following in an article entitled: Is America possible?

…It is precisely in a period of great spiritual and societal hunger like our own that we most need to open minds, hearts, and memories to those times when women and men actually dreamed of new possibilities for our nation, for our world, and for their own lives. It is now that we may be able to convey the stunning idea that dreams, imagination, vision, and hope are actually powerful mechanisms in the creation of new realities—especially when the dreams go beyond speeches and songs to become embodied; to take on flesh, in real, hard places.

Dr. Howard Thurman offers this prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.” Teach me how to order my days that with sure touch I may say the right word at the right time and in the right way — lest I betray the spirit of peace. Let me not be deceived by my own insecurity and weakness which would make me hurt another as I try desperately to help myself. Keep watch with me, O my Father, over the days of my life, that with abiding enthusiasm I may be in such possession of myself that each day I may offer to Thee the full, unhampered use of me in all my parts as ​“an instrument of Thy Peace.” Amen.

Armistice Day, November 11th, was not made a holiday to celebrate military interventions around the world. This day was made a holiday in order to celebrate an armistice that ended what was up until that point, in 1918, one of the worst things our species had thus far done to itself, namely World War I. World War I, then known simply as the world war or the great war, had been marketed as a war to end war. Celebrating its end was also understood as celebrating the end of all wars. A ten-year campaign was launched in 1918 that in 1928 created the Kellogg-Briand Pact, legally banning all wars. That treaty is still on the books, which is why war making is a criminal act and how Nazis came to be prosecuted for it.

On November 11, 1918, there ended the most unnecessary, the most financially exhausting, and the most terribly fatal of all the wars that the world has ever known. Twenty millions of men and women, in that war, were killed outright, or died later from wounds. The Spanish influenza, admittedly caused by the War and nothing else, killed, in various lands, one hundred million persons more.

For years, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been arguing for a Department of Peace. On February 18, this year she introduced historic and transformative legislation calling of a Department of Peacebuilding as a cabinet level department. Its purpose would be to make peace a national focus, to nurture the interconnected of all life and honor the intersectionality of peace, justice, equality, planetary survival and other aspects of life.

I plan to be at Fellowship Church, 2041Larkin Street, San Francisco, Thursday, November 11 at 11:00 A.M. to ring the church bell. I welcome anyone who would like to join me.

There is no greater illusion than fear, no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself, no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe.

Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, Stephen Mitchell translation

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