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peace

Violinists from around the world joined in an "international violin choir of support" for Ukraine.

As Ukraine continues to fight off Russia's military invasion, we see more and more heartbreaking images of suffering and destruction from the war. Apartment buildings where people went about their lives less than three weeks ago devastated by bombs, rubble and missiles in streets and playgrounds where families walked and children played, hoards of people fleeing with what they could carry, leaving everything they've known behind.

The loss and waste and inhumanity of it all are unfathomable, as is the case in every war.

And yet, just like in every war, we see glimpses of beauty and connection, of the very things that make us human and provide hope that we as a species are not doomed by the worst of us. We see love, we see laughter, we see compassion—and we see music.

One of the most remarkable things about humans is how we make art, no matter what. You'd think when our basic survival is immediately threatened, we wouldn't bother with creating beauty or expressing ourselves artistically, but we do. Every time. Art is not an add-on to life; it's inextricably wrapped up in life itself.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

As flags fly on Veterans Day, let's rethink how we observe this holiday.

If you attend any Veterans Day ceremony in the United States, you'll likely see many of the same things. Military personnel in uniform. The Pledge of Allegiance recited and/or the National Anthem played—perhaps even by a military band. Speeches celebrating American freedoms and expressing gratitude for the people who defend them. Salutes and patriotism and pomp. Flags, flags and more flags.

What do we rarely see or hear anything about on Veterans Day? Building peace. And frankly, that's weird.

It's particularly weird considering where this holiday came from. Originally commemorated as Armistice Day marking the end of World War I, November 11 was a day dedicated to the cause of world peace in addition to honoring veterans who served in the war. Congress's 1926 resolution establishing the legal holiday read in part [emphasis mine], "…it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations."

Over the decades, it seems the focus of the holiday has shifted away from "exercises designed to perpetuate peace," toward exercises designed to glorify our armed forces. We don't talk about building peace on Veterans Day. We use militaristic language to talk about "defending our freedoms," painting the whole picture with a patriotic brush that tugs our red-white-and-blue heartstrings.

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Rambam Health Care/Facebook

As the world watches longstanding tensions between Israel and Palestine escalate into violence once again, it's good to be reminded that political conflicts are not a reflection of how average human beings feel about one another. Even when violent attacks take place among civilians, even when hate crimes happen, even when some people express their prejudices loudly and passionately, there are plenty of examples of people on opposite sides of those conflicts—people that the world views as enemies—who join hands to say, "This is not who or what we are to one another."

Case in point: This inspiring show of solidarity between Arab and Jewish medical staff at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

The city of Haifa itself has been viewed as a model of peaceful coexistence between people of various faiths and backgrounds, its religiously and ethnically diverse population avoiding most of the violence seen in other large Israeli cities over the years. Living up to that reputation, in recent weeks, Jewish medical staff at Rambam Medical Center have taken extra shifts to give their Muslim coworkers time off for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and Arab staff have done the same for their Jewish coworkers to give them time off during Shavuot.

On May 12, as violence escalated, Rambam's medical teams shared photos of Arab and Jewish medical personnel standing arm in arm with signs of peace and coexistence written in Arabic and Hebrew on Facebook.

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In 1945, the world had just endured the bloodiest war in history. World leaders were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. They wanted to build a better future, one free from the "scourge of war" so they signed the UN Charter — creating a global organization of nations that could deter and repel aggressors, mediate conflicts and broker armistices, and ensure collective progress.

Over the following 75 years, the UN played an essential role in preventing, mitigating or resolving conflicts all over the world. It faced new challenges and new threats — including the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, a Cold War and brutal civil wars, transnational terrorism and genocides. Today, the UN faces new tensions: shifting and more hostile geopolitics, digital weaponization, a global pandemic, and more.

This slideshow shows how the UN has worked to build peace and security around the world:

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Malians wait in line at a free clinic run by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Mission in Mali in 2014. Over their 75 year history, UN peacekeepers have deployed around the world in military and nonmilitary roles as they work towards human security and peace. Here's a look back at their history.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino