At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the Great War ended. That milestone was called Armistice Day.
Until World War II, you couldn’t call the earlier World War I. So the war that was fought almost exclusively in Europe from 1914 to 1918 was called the Great War—the one to end them all.
Here are some of the causes of the Great War: rising nationalism among Europe’s ethnic groups that sparked competition; modern weapons buildup (submarines, aircraft, machine guns and poison gas); competition for colonial expansion, primarily in Asia and Africa; perceived threats and nations guarding themselves against attack and alliances.
The June 28, 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb nationalist triggered the war. Archduke Ferdinand was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria, supported by Germany, declared war on Serbia. Russia came to Serbia’s defense, and several other countries soon picked sides.
The combatants of the war were on one side, the Allies: Belgium, Britain, China, France, Greece, Russia, Serbia and several countries in the Western Hemisphere, including Canada and—nearly three years into the war—the United States of America. On the other side, the Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey (the Ottoman Empire).
The United States declared war on the Central Powers in April of 1917. American troops numbered 4.7 million; casualties numbered 320,000, including 53,000 battlefield deaths and 63,000 non-battlefield deaths.
Every year on November 11, the United States observes Veterans Day, formerly called Armistice Day, as a national holiday. In 1954, the US Congress changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor not only the soldiers who fought during World War I, but all US veterans who served the US Armed Forces in all the wars the United States waged.
Veterans Day arouses a number of emotions in most Americans. It arouses solemnity, because it celebrates veterans who have defended America; sadness, because so many have lost their lives in the process; and pride, because they have fought so well.
The supreme value that our veterans have fought and died for has made America a country of freedom. America was one of the first countries in the world to declare that all people are equal before the law. It was one of the first to say that each individual has inalienable rights— the right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.
There is no more precious possession than one’s life. But without political freedom, human life is empty. The New Hampshire motto says it perfectly: “Live free or die.”
We must be proud of our soldiers, but it is equally true that they should be proud of the cause they fight for. It is terrible to die in war, but there is one thing worse: to die in a war that has no meaning, a war that offers no reason for risking one’s life.
This Veterans Day as we honor American Veterans, we cannot forget the veterans and armed forces of our twin Republics of Armenia and Artsakh who are defending our compatriots against the unprovoked aggression of Azerbaijan. We stand in solidarity with them as they maintain the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of our fatherland and bring about peace and security to our people.
The best way we can honor our veterans and give real meaning to Veterans Day—aside from ceremonies honoring their dedication and bravery—is to promise that we will go to war only when our lives, peace and security, freedom and national interests are threatened.