BY REV. DR. VAHAN H. TOOTIKIAN
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Great War ended. This milestone was called Armistice Day.
Until World War II, you couldn’t call the earlier war 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.
What were the causes of the Great War? Briefly, a few of the causes were the following: Rising nationalism among Europe’s ethnic groups that sparked competition; Weapons buildup—many countries spent millions on modern gadgets, including submarines, aircraft, machine guns and poison gas; Competition for colonial expansion, primarily in Asia and Africa; Perceived threats—many nations, guarding themselves against attack, formed alliances.
What triggered the war was a young Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed the Austrian Archduke, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Sarajevo. The assassination, which occurred on June 28, 1914, and which set off a chain of events, is considered a national holy day among Serbs. 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 were 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, Congress changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor not only the soldiers who fought during World War I, but all U.S. veterans who served in the. 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 Veteran’s 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 unprovoked Azerbaijani aggression. We stand in solidarity with them as they maintain the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of our Homeland 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, security, freedom, and national interests are threatened.
Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian is the Minister Emeritus of the Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit and the Executive Director of the Armenian Evangelical World Council.