Faculty leads Veterans Day talk

“Tonight we will talk about Veterans Day and it’s origins, along with Armistice Day and the history of how we have talked about memorialized war and the ending of wars,” said Professor of English Heather Hayton.

The final Fall Dinner and Discussion community session was held on Monday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m. in the Gilmer Room of Founders Hall. The discussion focused on the origins of Veterans Day, and the aftermath and memorialization of war.

Members of the Guilford community were invited to listen to Associate Professor of History Phil Slaby and Professor of Foreign Languages Hiroko Hirakawa give presentations about Veterans Day. Slaby presented on the history of Veterans Day and its links to Armistice Day while Hirakawa presented on the similarities and differences between Veterans Day and Japan’s Memorial Day for the End of the War.

“Veterans Day is a day that has its links to Armistice Day, but it dates to 1954,” Slaby said. “It is a day brought into existence by Eisenhower. It was made to preserve our heritage and freedom, and let us focus on promoting and enduring peace so that the soldiers’ efforts would not be made in vain. So in a sense, Veterans Day is an extension of Armistice Day.”

Slaby went on to discuss the background of Armistice Day and how the holiday came to be nationally recognized.

“The official Armistice holiday in the United States was in the 1930s, so it had previously been an informal celebration, but at this time it was officially adopted by the states and the nation,” Slaby said.

The First World War damaged to all participating nations, and in many cases civilians were constantly put into dangerous situations as the locations of battlefronts changed.

“It was a war that was deliberately targeting civilians,” Slaby said. “In many cases, it was a war that had ethnic cleansing as a part of it. It was a war that had multiple battlefronts. It was a war that brought about a scarcity of food and medicine.”

The U.S. is not the only country to have a day dedicated to commemorating the sacrifices made during the First World War.

“I’m not a historian, so this is not my expertise,” Hirakawa said. “But it has always been my passion and my interest to find out more about how societies commemorate various events, such as wars. Originally, I set out to determine if Japan had their version of Veterans Day. I determined that the answer was no, but also yes.”

In her presentation, Hirakawa went on to explain the history of Memorial Day for the End of the War, and the events that influenced its creation.

“Various dates and events influenced the memorial day, but the current day of celebration is August 15,” Hirakawa said. “The celebration is called the Memorial Day for the End of the War, and that name really matters because it shows a little bit of the story behind the celebrations.”

Similar to how the name of Japan’s Memorial Day for the End of the War shows the story behind the day’s celebrations, the history of Veterans Day and its ties to Armistice Day shed light on celebrations in the U.S.

“What we have in both cases of Veterans Day and Armistice Day is people trying to come to terms with war and with loss,” Slaby said. “It was sort of a collective trauma, and so there’s a little bit of attention, whether these memorializations are treated as an occasion to celebrate heroism or sacrifice. Another thing that both of these cases can speak to is that they are both very difficult to give one single meaning to.”

A major theme in both presentations is how the modern Veterans Day celebrations have developed a different focus than they were intended, celebrating more military power and ability rather than the sacrifices that were made during the war.

“The consequences of this past, and the cost of the sacrifices that were made, are sometimes lost in the celebrations and festivities,” Slaby said.