The late Kurt Vonnegut is revered among American authors. He also was a veteran of World War II who served in the Battle of the Bulge and survived the firebombing of Dresden, where he was being held by the Germans as a POW.
That experience informed his life and his work, including his seminal novel “Slaughterhouse-Five,” named for where, according to the World War II Museum’s website, he was held: Schlachthof 5.
In his 1973 novel “Breakfast of Champions,” Vonnegut painted with words an awe-inspiring tableau of the beginning of the end of the first World War with the armistice that came Nov. 11, 1918.
“(A)ll the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind,” the novelist wrote.
Silence in a world at war as the voice of God, think on that for a moment.
On its front page, Nov. 16, 1918, the Kent News celebrated the Great War’s end thusly: “Peace: Germany Signs Armistice — Fighting Ceases 6 A.M. Monday, Nov. 11th — The Whole World Rejoices — Kent Countians Join In Celebrating Victory. Praise Ye The Lord.”
“My Fellow-Countrymen: The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober, friendly counsel and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world,” the News quoted from a formal proclamation by President Warren G. Harding.
Armistice Day, celebrating the end of one war, became Veterans Day, a time to honor all those who served in the military. This Veterans Day highlights the day’s ties to World War I in that it marks the 100th anniversary of the commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
Located at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the Tomb of the Unknowns began as an honor to those killed in World War I whose remains could not be identified. In the following decades it was expanded to include honorary burial sites for those who fell in later wars.
“On such an occasion as this, amid such a scene, our thoughts alternate between defenders living and defenders dead. A grateful Republic will be worthy of them both. Our part is to atone for the losses of heroic dead by making a better Republic for the living,” Harding said on Nov. 11, 1921 at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
World War I, the Great War, the War to End All Wars saw a new kind of military, a new kind of battle and all new horrors of war. Harding described the mechanization of the military as “cruel, deliberate, scientific destruction.”
“I speak not as a pacifist fearing war, but as one who loves justice and hates war,” Harding said in the 1921 address.
We continue to call on our brave men and women to serve in our military. We have in the ensuing century continued to put them in harm’s way in the name of the United States of America.
On this day, we join with a grateful nation in saluting our veterans who have served our country with pride, courage and honor.