Veterans Day, patriotism, military, peace
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.


It's additionally weird to see such a focus when I think about some of the combat veterans I've known. The family member who refused to talk about his time in Korea. The friend who flinched at fireworks and still couldn't stand the sound of helicopters decades after serving in Vietnam. The friend, a few years younger than me, who shut himself in a closet and shot himself in the head after multiple tours of duty in Iraq.

Their sacrifices were real and should be acknowledged. But so should the reality of why they were called to make those sacrifices. Were those wars actually fought to defend American freedoms? Are the sacrifices of our veterans—with their mental health, with their families, with their lives in some cases—always worth it?

We don't dare say no. To some, it might seem disrespectful—downright blasphemous, perhaps—to even ask the questions. But we owe it to the veterans we honor to consciously weigh the cost of war—and conversely, promote the cause of peace—in our observances of this holiday.

That's the message Veterans for Peace has for all of us. Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace is a global organization of military veterans and allies with dozens of chapters and five stated goals: To increase public awareness of the causes and costs of war, to restrain governments from intervening in the internal affairs of other nations, to end the arms race and eliminate nuclear weapons, to seek justice for veterans and victims of war, and to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

These veterans also want to reclaim Armistice Day.

"Veterans For Peace has taken the lead in lifting up the original intention of November 11th—as a day for peace," states the organization's website. "As veterans we know that a day that celebrates peace, not war, is the best way to honor the sacrifices of veterans. We want generations after us to never know the destruction war has wrought on people and the earth."

The call of Veterans for Peace is reminiscent of five-star general President Dwight D. Eisenhower's statements about war: "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity," he said in 1946. And in 1960, he said in the opening session of the White House Conference on Children and Youth, "In this hope, among the things we teach to the young are such truths as the transcendent value of the individual and the dignity of all people, the futility and stupidity of war, its destructiveness of life and its degradation of human values."

Our veterans deserve to be honored. They also deserve to have their experiences recognized as the genuine tragedies that they are, not glossed over or dressed up for the sake of national pride and patriotism.

Let's ask ourselves: Are our young people getting the message that war is stupid and futile at the same time they are taught to place their hands on their hearts and pay respect to our veterans? Are we explaining to young people how high the suicide rate is among military personnel—and why—when we take them to military parades? Do we share with them, as they witness the pageantry surrounding this holiday, that Veterans Day isn't meant to be a badge of glory pinned to our nation's chest, but rather an acknowledgment of a tragic truth—that humanity has not yet learned that war isn't worth its cost?

As we observe Veterans Day with all the usual ceremonial trappings, let's focus on finding ways to build peace between all peoples and nations as well. The best way to truly honor our veterans is not merely to thank them for their service and then keep sending them into combat zones, but to actively strive toward a future that doesn't need them anymore.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

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Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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