On November 11th, America will observe Veteran’s Day, so named in 1954 by President Eisenhower. For 35 years, Americans had celebrated Armistice Day in recognition of the end of World War I, and as a day dedicated to the “cause of world peace.” Following the massive mobilizations and sacrifices of World War II and the Korean War, however, Congress renamed Armistice Day as Veteran’s Day, and by so doing honored the millions more who had sacrificed for the common good.
In his proclamation recognizing Armistice Day, President Wilson said:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
Wilson’s call to recognize those who served in the “War to End All Wars” came on the heels of his failed effort to establish the League of Nations, and have America join it. Not until the end of World War II did America choose to join an international organization dedicated to the maintenance of peace and security, the United Nations. And in an effort to improve its abilities to prevent, mitigate and transform violent conflict, the United States established the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in 1984 to complement the work of America’s soldiers and diplomats at the State and Defense departments.
Today’s complex global environment poses security challenges that transcend the roles and responsibilities of our military forces. America’s conflicts have traditionally been military-dominated activities, but increasingly it is the diplomats and organizations like USIP who work in tandem with the military to achieve and maintain the desired result: the re-establishment and sustainability of peace.
Since 1984, USIP has worked with both our diplomatic corps and military in our efforts to prevent and resolve international conflict. I saw this work from both angles. In 2003, as an active duty Army colonel I worked closely with USIP as it provided significant immediate conflict stabilization support to the American mission in Iraq. A few years later, as a retired Army officer, I was privileged to serve as USIP’s Iraq program director where we joined forces with the military and diplomats to 2007 to stabilize the violent “Triangle of Death” in Mahmoudiyah. Our institute staff of local Iraqi civilians and U.S. “peacebuilders” played a critical role in training conflict reconciliation facilitators who helped Iraqis peacefully resolve hot button issues. Since then, senior military leaders have recognized the value of USIP’s work in Iraq and several other countries in the region, including Libya and Tunisia. And the State Department has also welcomed USIP’s assistance in dealing with inter-ethnic and gender-based conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Up close we see the very real sacrifices and commitment of all our colleagues on the ground. We value our work with them, now and in the future.
So, on this Veterans Day as the nation justifiably honors those members of the military who have served and died in defense of the United States, I wish to extend my own keen appreciation to fellow veterans and all the others who “show sympathy with peace and justice” in dangerous and remote places on behalf of the American people.