This weekend, Americans observe Veterans’ Day. We honor those who served in our nation’s armed forces, and especially the sacrifices they made in times of war. These men and women know better than most of us the terrible costs to be paid when human conflict turns violent.
It was that personal understanding of the cost of war that led veterans from World War II to urge Congress to found the U.S. Institute of Peace. Congress honored the vision of those veterans in its mandate for the Institute: “to promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence.” The people of USIP uphold this mission as a daily acknowledgment of those costs of war, and of our debt to those who have borne it.
In USIP’s three decades of work, our researchers, trainers, mediators and other experts—including many veterans—increasingly have pursued our mission in the same violent conflict zones as U.S. military personnel, and for the same reason. Our world is now a global village, tightly interconnected by transport and technology, in which chaos, warfare and the uprooting of entire populations pose threats to all. In 2017, this reality finds both U.S. military personnel and USIP at work in places close to the daily headlines—Afghanistan and Iraq.
This Veterans Day comes exactly 99 years after the World War I ceasefire that Americans long commemorated as Armistice Day. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower’s signature changed the event to Veterans Day, to honor Americans who sacrificed in all wars. “Let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain,” Eisenhower wrote in that first Veterans Day proclamation.
USIP has partnered in its work with many veterans who tell us that their wartime experience has shown them the imperative to prevent conflicts from turning violent whenever possible. And it has shown the need to preserve a hard-won peace by rebuilding war-torn communities. The U.S. Institute of Peace calls this work “peacebuilding.” It is not only our mission, mandated by Congress on behalf of the American people. It is also that reconsecration to which Eisenhower, Veterans Day, and the sacrifices of our compatriots summon all of our nation’s citizens.