ar·mi·stice [ahr-muh-stis] noun
a temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement of the warring parties; truce
from Dictionary.com Unabridged / Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.
Call me a nitpicker—on second thought, call me what I am: a compulsive editor overly attached to precise use of language—but it’s always bothered me that the name of this day was changed from Armistice to Veterans Day. Check out the above definition: armistice has an intense, clear-cut meaning. The government dumped it, though, on June 1, 1954, when I was too young to notice—yet I have a vague memory of celebrating Armistice Day prior to that time. (At five or six years old!). Anyhow, while “Armistice Day” still holds in France, Belgium and New Zealand, most countries, including the U.S., changed it after World War II.
The day originally marked the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of that war. It took effect at 11:00 a.m.—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. (Don’t you just love that?) WWI was called, at the time, “the war to end all wars” and the treaty was considered the Great Armistice, since there wouldn’t be any more “great” wars. Ahem.
World War II proved the fallacy of this train of thought. That momentous conflict required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the nation’s history up to then; and after American forces fought in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of 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) November 11th became a day to honor all American veterans, whether living, dead in action, or deceased from other causes.
Now the official national remembrance of war dead is Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day,” derived from the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves, begun immediately after the American Civil War.
And if you can keep all this straight you’re a better citizen than I—but then, I decided some time ago I ain’t gonna study war no more.
I always wondered if Paul Simon’s song Armistice Day expressed sentiments similar to mine, but the lyrics don’t reflect this. Then again, Simon’s written plenty of songs that seem to be about one thing and aren’t, or so he says: when he cut the album Graceland, in which he sounds like he’s rejoicing on his way to that iconic place, he told interviewers the song had nothing to do with the Elvis Presley mega-mansion. Okaaaay. Here’s the chorus from Armistice Day.
Armistice Day (Chorus)
That’s all I really wanted to say
Oh I’m weary from waiting
in Washington DC
I’m coming to see my Congressman
but he’s avoiding me.
Well, that is obviously a song about the Easter bunny! And Graceland, I just figured out, is an ode to The North Pole.
Changing Armistice to Veterans for the purpose Congress intended–to honor all vets–actually is precise use of language. I just wish they wanted to honor at least the concept of armistice somewhere along the way.
- The Eleventh Hour: “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace” (definedontdefend.com)
- Armistice Day silence to take place (bbc.co.uk)