The Eleventh Hour

Joe Sobran, writing in 2004 on the cult of the “Greatest Generation”:

I’m put off by all this raving about World War II veterans as “the greatest generation.” The survivors among them are old now, but during that war they were young. And it’s not as if they had any choice. They did what they were told, like the young men they fought against, with little comprehension of the big picture. Are we to think they all pondered the merits of the war, and independently arrived at the same conclusion? Or did they merely obey the state en masse, just as Japanese and German boys did?

What is really being glorified is not the veteran, but the war itself. It was a war most Americans at the time wanted to stay out of, and rightly so; but Franklin Roosevelt did all he could to involve us anyway, provoking the Germans and Japanese at every opportunity.

Yes, the United States won. It gained a global empire and nuclear weapons, but was unable to control the genie that had been released. The government became far bigger than ever, fantastically different from the modest federation designed by its Founders; militaristic and bureaucratic habits became second nature to Americans, who have lost all sense of proportion about themselves and are baffled and irritated by the inevitable result: anti-Americanism around the world.

There is a fundamental difference between “Veterans Day” in the United States and “Remembrance Day,” or “Armistice Day,” celebrated in Canada and most European countries. Remembrance Day marks the end of the First World War—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918; it encourages a certain distancing from the Brothers Wars of the 20th century; it’s a chance to be critical of them, or even overcome them.

America’s Veterans Day, on the other hand, is a glorification of those wars (and an invitation to forget them at the same time). You’re supposed to “thank a vet for your freedom”—effectively thanking him for keeping watch over Washington’s global hegemony.

I sense we are now approaching a post-American stage to November 11. For millennials and non-White Americans, the World Wars have gone down the memory hole, or perhaps they never had much resonance to begin with. Today, we “celebrate veterans” in the sense that we celebrate the fact that millions of women, gays, Blacks, immigrants, and transgendered people are employed by the United States military around the world.

At least there shall be peace.