Veteran’s Day isn’t just another excuse to close the banks and take a day off school. As you probably remember from your own elementary school days, it’s the anniversary of Armistice Day, the formal ending of World War I. Since World War II, the holiday has been observed to honor all American veterans.
This is why, unlike other minor holidays, Veteran’s Day floats around, landing inconveniently on different days of the week. You can’t rely on it for a long weekend. This year, it’s on a Thursday, smack in the middle of your week.
In the 1970s, Congress tried to pin Veteran’s Day to a Monday, along with Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. It didn’t take, and the holiday moved back to its original date a few years later.
In addition to a day off from your usual routine from school and work, your kids probably celebrate Veteran’s Day at school. That can make this a rough week to be a pacifist parent.
My kids go to a progressive private school where they have few in-class holiday celebrations, and very few displays of patriotism. My daughter’s class probably has as many immigrants in it as American citizens. School is closed for Veteran’s Day and that’s that.
As an education reporter for a newspaper, though, I got to attend plenty of Veteran’s Day assemblys. They ranged from tasteful class projects to collect hats and mittens for soldiers serving in Afghanistan to over-the-top musical productions of songs like “Soldiers, you have given us our freedom!” and “God Bless America”.
It’s not that I don’t want to support our veterans. My brother-in-law recently came home safe from a tour in Iraq, and is now spending his weekends training with the National Guard and doing disaster relief until he’s shipped out to Afghanistan next year.
I’m grateful for his service, and glad there’s a national holiday to celebrate him and his fellow veterans. It’s hard, though, in the midst of parades and assemblys full of impassioned speeches and shiny uniforms, to have a nuanced conversation with my kids about pacifism.
My husband and I believe that war is always the wrong answer. Our first several dates were at anti-war rallies in the run-up to the current Iraq war. Non-violence is the central ethic of our lives, and it informs everything from how we vote to how we discipline our kids.
Children are charmingly literal; its hard for them to see shades of gray, especially around moral issues. They can mistake the marching bands and teary speeches for glorifying war, rather than seeing them simply as honoring past sacrifices.
One way to step sideways from the current questions of war and peace that fill our newspaper headlines is to talk to the kids about the history of Veteran’s Day. They love learning interesting tidbits like the one mentioned above, about how Veteran’s Day moved to a Monday briefly in the 70s and then back again.
Another thing we do is talk about family stories. Sharing the stories of real veterans my kids know brings the nuance of war and peace to life. They know they didn’t see their uncle for over a year, and that it was hard to have him gone away for a long time right after their cousin was born.
Thinking about his experience, they don’t need to be told that there are hard parts as well as glorious parades. Seeing photos of grandparents and great-grandparents who served in wars before they were born gives them a chance to learn more of their family history as well as a dose of world history.
When they’re older, we’ll have more complex talks about war and why their dad and I are committed to non-violence. For now, I’ll thank my lucky stars that their school isn’t spending this week teaching them military salutes and love songs to soldiers.