We Called it "Armistice
Day" - Reflections from Texas - by Margret
Our daughter Barbara was born
on Armistice Day, 1952. This was the day on
which the Western World celebrated the end of
World War One.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day
of the 11th month of the year 1918, the peace
treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed.
Little Barbara's father had been born in Texas
a few weeks after Armistice Day, while my parents,
who lived in Berlin, Germany, were making plans
for their wedding.
It seems incongruous that our baby's grandparents
had officially been "enemies" until
that very day. And so had her parents, my husband
and I, officially been enemies, 34 years later.
When Barbara arrived on Armistice Day, 1952,
we saw this as a symbol and chose "Frieda"
as her middle name. Frieda is the German word
for "Peace". This seemed especially
appropriate, since both her grandmothers' first
name had also been "Frieda".
Then, in 1954, the decision was made to change
the name and purpose of Armistice Day to a holiday
on which we honor United States veterans of
This year, 2007, Veterans' Day fell on a Sunday,
giving us two days to contemplate the meaning
of our new holiday. Surely, the official arrival
of the end of the Great War would also signify
the beginning of a great period of peace. War
had truly become too terrible ever again to
be considered a justifiable solution to disagreements
between heads of state! Airplanes, only recently
developed as means of peaceful transportation,
had been transformed to become tools of war.
Pilots could drop bombs on the "enemy"
from a safe distance, so that they themselves
were in little
danger. And this distance made it possible for
the pilots to kill those who lived on the other
side of a country's arbitrarily established
border, people who had been designated as "enemies",
without ever seeing their faces. Without ever
seeing them at all.
Mankind had glimpsed the abyss which would most
certainly become a reality with the murderous
possibilities created by an air war. Certainly,
every thinking person would ask himself or herself:
"Is there no better way to solve economic
or political problems than by dropping explosives
When the Great War ended, millions of young
women would never have husbands. They had all
Countless children grew up without fathers.
Where were the young men to work the farms?
The sons to take care of their aging parents?
The skilled workers?
The future professionals who were killed before
they even had a chance to begin their studies?
But we seemed to have learned little else but
to look for scapegoats and to think of revenge.
O yes, we also became experts in constructing
hundreds of thousands of near-identical white
crosses and in lining them up neatly on endless
fields. We see these fields in almost every
country and admire the symmetry, while we forget
that each cross represents someone's son, someone's
father, someone's brother, someone's husband,
a life extinguished.
There must be a better way. There must be a
better way than contributing to an atmosphere
which makes violence likely and acceptable.
We have also learned, because most of us felt
no reason to question it, that winning a war
means to kill more people and to do it faster,
than the other guy does.We have not only learned
to ask few questions. In fact, we have learned
not even to care to ask questions. We have learned
that our country's prestige (prestige?) demands
that we have more nuclear warheads than any
one else has, and that our country's greatness
is to be measured in our ability to kill more
people than all other countries in the world.
We agree that a country's strength tends to
be measured in the amount of resources it spends
We have not learned to use the world's treasures
to the world's benefit, to consider the ways
of nonviolence as they have been demonstrated
so successfully by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther
King, Bishop Tutu and many ordinary people whom
we encounter in our daily lives.
The United States has been involved in at least
eight wars since the signing of the Armistice.
In addition, the 40 years of the Cold War represented
over 14,000 days of uninterrupted risk that
most of our world may be annihilated, but it
also offered a continuous opportunity for the
expression of gratitude for the miracle that
it did not happen. Instead, its end was greeted
with regret because military installations and
manufacturing plants of weapons and other instruments
of destruction might now have to be closed.
When will we recognize that war is the most
terrible and counterproductive way to settle
differences, to demonstrate one's superiority?
Instead, anything connected with the military
is considered patriotic, but peace marches are
controversial, if not downright suspect. War
should never even be considered as a solution
to any kind of a problem. Absolutely nothing
is glorious about it. I have experienced six
years of it, and often barely escaped with my
So, a day which was observed because it symbolized
peace, gradually morphed into a day to honor
those who had been killed and those who had
been fortunate enough to survive. Those who
lost their limbs, those who had lost their sons
or their fathers. And those whose sons and daughters
are now persuaded to pay the price, again, because
whatever little we did
learn, we conveniently refuse to put into practice.
We must ask ourselves: Why? Why
are we not open to any insight? We should recall
President Eisenhower's thoughtful words that
every gun which is made signifies a theft from
those who hunger and are not fed, from those
who are cold and are not clothed.
Yet we continue to be incredibly generous with
expenditures for everything military, with little
oversight and few questions asked. We pass this
mindset on to other countries: Why are we so
proud to be among the top arms dealers to the
developing world? The developing world's leaders
should be encouraged to use their countries'
meager treasures to enhance their desperately
poor peoples' lives instead.
Were we not once admonished to beat our swords
Margret Hofmann is a former member
of the Austin City Council and active in the
of Reconciliation - Central Texas. As a
former resident of Dresden
Germany during WWII, Mrs. Hofmann both witnessed
as a 13 year old in Dusseldorf and survived
the Nazi occupation. She is author of many editorials
and speaks regularly on the Holocaust.