The following is an editorial from the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
Of the 16 million American men and women who served in World War II, about 400,000 survive today, which means their firsthand stories are still being told — not that there seems to be much chance that WWII will soon fade from the American consciousness.
Almost from the moment Japan surrendered, the horror of that great conflict and the heroism displayed by Americans has been depicted on both the big and small screen. Movies like “To Hell and Back,” “The Longest Day,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Thin Red Line” and “Patton,” as well as miniseries like “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” have ensured that future generations will have at least some awareness of the sacrifices Americans made in Europe, Africa and the Pacific.
Or will they?
Sadly, the passage of time has pushed “The war to end all wars” into the dusty corners of our nation’s memory. Indeed, it’s a safe bet that when we observe Veterans Day on Sunday, relatively few Americans will realize the importance of Nov. 11. While the significance of June 6 and Dec. 7 show no sign of fading, we’ve largely forgotten that hostilities with Germany in World War I officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
That means Sunday will mark exactly 100 years since the end of the war in which nearly 5 million Americans served, with about 116,000 making the ultimate sacrifice. Twenty years after the war ended, Congress officially declared Nov. 11 a legal holiday called Armistice Day, which was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
So, while we commend and recognize all United States military veterans on the day that honors them, we think it entirely appropriate also to reflect upon the mindset that brought America into World War I — a war our nation entered despite the fact that it never actually touched American soil.
President Woodrow Wilson, writing on the one-year anniversary of the Armistice, put it this way: “The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.”
This is an important reminder at a time when our nation has allowed itself to become deeply and bitterly divided, and when self-interest threatens many of our long-standing alliances with other nations.
World War I was the first time in our world’s history when more than a dozen nations united in common cause to halt the spread of tyranny, but today there are those who would prefer that America isolate itself. They prefer to focus on our national self-interests until such time that our allies around the globe demonstrate proper gratitude and a willingness to share equally in the never-ending global battles against terror, despotism and poverty.
But we contend that America’s greatness hinges largely upon a blend of strength, wealth, idealism and compassion, a unique combination that enables us — we would say requires us — to defend the weak, attack the tyrant and unite with nations who share our principles, even if they can’t share equally in the cost of fighting for those principles.
So on Veterans Day, we commend those Americans who put their lives on the line to defend what’s right, even if that battle is fought on the other side of the world, on behalf of people who speak other languages and will never be able to repay the debt they owe us.
That’s what America did in World War I. We looked it up.
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