Armistice Day Reflection

Posted on November 12, 2019

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I find the school celebrations of Veteran’s Day troubling. What, exactly, are we celebrating? What behaviors are we honoring? What messages are we conveying to children about how we resolve conflict in society?

I find the idea that soldiers are heroes and need schoolchildren to honor them highly disturbing. By doing so, the school is promoting a pro-war stance, communicating to children that the adults who are charged with guiding them safely to adulthood would be proud of them for becoming part of the war machine.

Why? It is in direct conflict with the idea of peace education and global citizenship–which are central tenets of public education on any other day.

As teachers, we must think carefully about what we promote as admirable to students. How will we feel if a student who respects and admires us joins the military hoping to earn our respect–and something terrible happens?

I find it disturbing that children as young as five are being taught that participating in armed conflict is heroic. Even more disturbing than the emotionally overwrought celebrations of soldiers with young children is the one-sided, uncritical portrayal of veterans at the high school level. Students are expected to CELEBRATE VETERANS–but never ask questions about who has done what to earn their praise, who was harmed by their actions, how racist, homophobic, and trans-phobic policies harm military personnel, how the military lures teens in with false promises of schools and jobs that are often withdrawn once the young person has made a commitment, that the military has a horrendous problem of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination, or that the military is in armed conflict around the world, NOT to protect the U.S. constitution, but to protect U.S. corporate profits. Students must not ask about the prevalence of homeless vets or the veteran suicide rate or the higher rates of police brutality among veterans who become police officers. Most of all, students must not ask about the ways that the government is denying benefits owed to their own veteran family members, some of whom will die before they get the care they need.

“Veteran,” at school, has come to mean some kind of holy warrior. But this is nonsense. Military service does not confer righteousness on someone, even when they’ve survived the horrors of war themselves. They signed up voluntarily for a job and performed it. And no celebrations with smiling school-children can help them navigate the system that exists to delay and deny them the benefits they earned through their service.

For me, “heroes” help make the world a better place. They educate, they heal, they protect the vulnerable, they stand against injustice and oppression, and most importantly, they live peacefully. I do know certain individuals, who are veterans, who do these heroic things, and for that, I respect and admire them.

But I’m not up for honoring military personnel just because they chose that job. I’m not up for honoring the white supremacists or Christian nationalists who join the military so that they can learn how to harm civilians with whom they have political disagreements. I’m not up for honoring the vets who have committed war crimes. I’m not up for honoring the vets who have raped and/or participated in the cover-up of rape of other vets. I’m not up for honoring the vets who hazed new recruits to death.

Why is it that schools demand uncritical consumption of war propaganda by the very students who are expected and encouraged to enlist?

Why do teachers abandon the idea that students should consult a number of perspectives on an issue when it comes to the military? Why should a student research and tour a number of potential colleges, especially if they are concerned about their safety and well-being on campus, but not look behind the curtain of a governmental organization that might literally cost them their lives?

I find it quite troubling when a school promotes an international program and hosts students from around the globe and then holds up participants in war as heroes. What might students from countries where the U.S. military has brought destruction be thinking and feeling on such a day? What might students who live near U.S. military bases, where locals are often victims of crimes by military personnel, think? Certainly they could offer an international perspective on the subject, but certainly, they will never be asked.

As a teacher, it is not my role to celebrate war, the military, or veterans. As a teacher, it is my role to do all I can to insure the safety and well-being of all my students. As a teacher, I want students to learn to solve conflicts peacefully, through civil discourse. The U.S. military does not reflect the values of a public school classroom. As a teacher, I encourage students to question everything; fear no idea.  No public school teacher should ever behave like a commanding officer toward students. The military requires unquestioning obedience; teachers should foster questioning and informed decision-making.

As a parent, the pro-military stance promoted in public school contradicts the values of my home. Like students whose religions prevent them from serving in the military, my sons were raised to solve conflicts peacefully, through civil discourse, not violence.

I would prefer that communities of adults handle the celebrations of veterans and leave children out of it. Schools would serve the global community much better by focusing on activities that align with the original, 1938, November 11 commemoration, Armistice Day, which was “dedicated to the cause of world peace.

If schools are going to continue to invite veterans to address school-children, perhaps they could include some members of Veterans for Peace, “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;” Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a national veterans’ organization that was founded in New York City in 1967; or Iraq Veterans Against the War.

If you know someone who is considering military service, consider passing along this message from Special Forces Master Sergeant Stan Goff, who tells the truth about who and what American military personnel are serving when they enlist.

Finally, Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks. I invite you to join me for our family Thanksgiving Day tradition of listening to an anti-war song from my childhood, Alice’s Restaurant, by Arlo Guthrie…and when the chorus comes around at the end, make sure to sing along, with feeling.

I also recommend Alice Walker’s picture book, Why War Is Never A Good Idea, read aloud in this video by Ms. B.

Peace and love to you and yours, dear Reader.

Posted in: Peace Education