Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Henningsen: Armistice Day

It’s been some time since schools and businesses shut down and the nation observed a sixty second silence at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, marking the end of hostilities in World War I at that time and date in 1918. How many of us remember this was originally “Armistice Day?" The term was accurate – a truce, a mutual agreement to stop fighting, pending further negotiation. The war wouldn’t officially end until June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. But not for us. Unhappy with President Woodrow Wilson’s handling of the negotiations and unwilling to join the proposed League of Nations, the US Senate refused to ratify the treaty, negotiating a separate peace in 1921.

Still, from 1919, November 11th became the day most countries honored the dead of the so-called Great War. Most Americans observed it but it wasn’t official until 1938, when an isolationist Congress, mindful that the US already honored war dead on Memorial Day, declared the 11th “Armistice Day”: a national celebration of world peace.

Only in 1954, did President Dwight Eisenhower designate November 11th Veteran’s Day, thinking particularly of those who served in World War II and Korea,

How much significance should we give to a shift from celebrating the fact of peace to honoring the service of those who secured it and keep it secure? Some Americans today, unhappy with our national ventures overseas, regard the holiday as venerating the act of war itself and seek to erase it from the calendar.

As an historian, I know the meaning of the past is often re-shaped by more recent experience. But I’d argue for returning to the original meaning of the term “armistice”, which speaks to the temporary nature of the event. After all, World War I turned out not to be the “War to end all wars” that Wilson and others promised and the so-called peace of Versailles was merely a twenty year truce before an even greater conflict. And, in a larger sense, returning to the original purpose of the holiday would force us to grapple with the dangerous possibility that all peace is not only fragile, but temporary – an armistice.

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
Latest Stories