Brunswick Church bells will be ringing out for two full minutes at 11 o’clock in the morning of Saturday, November 11. Veterans for Peace, PeaceWorks and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom invite you to stop to listen to the powerful sound of church bells, a sound that has the power to fill us with both alarm and hope.

This time the bells will ring to commemorate the signing of the Armistice that ended all military operations and hostilities of World War I. The bells urge us to remember the horrors of war, to consider a world without war and to take action in support of cooperation rather than violence.

The bells at Saint John’s Church, First Parish UCC Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Church will mark this 99th anniversary of the ending of the “War to End All Wars”. Other churches have expressed interest in participating and are sorry not to have a working bell.

What we are taught now to call Veterans Day was originally known as ‘Armistice

Day’ and there is a subtle but vital difference in that change of wording. Initially it was an effort to celebrate the end of war by focusing on a dedication to world peace. As ‘Veterans Day’ it speaks to honoring those who have served in war and, in that way, honors war as an institution. To truly honor those who served and those who died in the violence of war, we must be careful to recognize that displays of military power are the antithesis of peace. To glorify war is to encourage the power of what President Eisenhower called the “military, industrial, congressional complex”. ( really-said-about-the-military indutrial-complex.html) It is peace that best honors and supports veterans of war.

There are several issues connected with WWI that are good to remember and think carefully about.

One is known as the “Christmas Truce” when, in 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and soccer games between “enemies”. You’ve probably seen the wonderful film by the same name in which enemy soldiers called off the war for two days and refused to shoot at each other. It seems unlikely and incongruous to imagine such a thing in this day and time. More difficult for me to accept is that the killing was resumed on the 26th which raises all sorts of difficult questions.

Another thing to wonder about is that a powerful Peace Movement spread in the years following 1918. The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution in 1926, with these words: “It is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date (November 11) should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”

And in 1927 French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aristide Briand, and U.S Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, proposed an international pact to outlaw war as an instrument of national policy. It called upon signatories to settle their disputes by peaceful means. Known as the Kellogg Briand Pact, it was signed by fifteen countries in August of 1928. Signatories included France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy and Japan. Later, an additional forty-seven nations followed suit, so the pact was eventually signed by most of the then established nations in the world. The U.S. Senate ratified the agreement by a vote of 85–1.

Sadly, by 1931 and the Mukden incident, or Japanese invasion of Manchuria, it became clear that there was no way to enforce the pact or sanction those who broke it. It also never fully defined what constituted “self-defense,” so there were many ways around its terms. What have we learned since?

Moving from history to the present, here is something tangible each of us can support with a phone call or a letter. Every year since 1994, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton has presented a bill to the House of Representatives calling on substantial changes in our foreign and domestic policies. This year it is “HR3853: The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Energy and Economic Conversion Act.” PeaceWorks urges you to speak up to insist that this bill be given serious discussion and consideration.

When you hear the bells on November 11, let yourself feel some of the sorrow that violence causes; acknowledge the tragedy that we still haven’t learned to abandon and abolish war. Talk with your friends and family and colleagues about it. This is the most important question we can be discussing as it connects us with solutions to all our social and cultural challenges. What can we do to hasten the learning that it is peace that protects the environment and stabilizes the economy? It is peace that best honors and supports veterans of war.

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