In 1917, my grandfather, Edward Arden Sipp, was a first Lieutenant in the newly formed Army Air Service Aircraft Production unit, posted at McCook’s Field in Dayton, OH. With a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin, he collaborated with other engineers in creating the first electrical landing lights for planes and heated flight suits for pilots.
Like many German Americans, my grandfather was proud of his heritage yet understood that his loyalty was not owed to the Fatherland but to the place of his birth. His patriotism arose from a sense of being an American, a national identity that was still in its formative stages in 1917, especially on the world stage.
Legacy of Values
In our family, we celebrated many German traditions with a great deal of pride, but not with nationalistic fervor. The legacies of valuing education, honesty and fairness in dealing with others, came out of the experience of coming from an immigrant family and having to contend with religious prejudice. Legacies of adaptation and tolerance came out of the experience of finding ways to fit in and be a contributing member of the community.
These values were never discussed explicitly; we never sat around the dinning room table and said, “Let us speak of things that guide us in our decision-making!” Yet, there is no denying that these values were transmitted through the choices my grandparents made and how they modeled being good citizens.
The Conflict of Now and Then
General Pershing was a hero in my home. Woodrow Wilson was considered a mastermind in creating the Lasting Peace. To this day, I clearly remember my grandfather explaining why the siren would go off on November 11 at 11:00 am. It marked the moment that the Armistice was signed, and the Germans surrendered.
What served the needs of the moment back in November of 1918 now appears to have been both opportunistic, racist, and dishearteningly cruel. In the days following the end of the War, photographers captured the victory parades and the wasteland left in the War’s aftermath. On review, all we discovered were new ways to kill each other. We did not find ways to end conflict.
History has since revealed the cracks in the patina of those times and heroes. Political fortunes rose and fell. Woodrow Wilson, an antisemite and racist, was succeeded by Warren G. Harding who led one of the most corrupt administrations this country has seen until recently. General Douglas MacArthur faced down fellow soldiers who marched on Washington to demand the care and compensation promised for their service. Germany descended into chaos and bred hatred and resentment resulting in the rise of Adolf Hitler. Though now thought of as the distant past, similar conditions and events are happening right now in our country.
These same issues persist, albeit with different players. They have been repeated in all the conflicts and wars that have followed. Service personnel from World War II, the Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, continue to languish without sufficient resources dedicated to honoring their service and sacrifice. Continued corruption granting contracts to defense manufacturers and the vastly bloated allocations to “defense” spending continue to impact our way of life.
The War to End All Wars
The needless slaughter of so many young men shocked humanity in the waning days of the Edwardian Era. Sadly, it is no longer shocking. Ironically, we now refer to the 1914-1918 slaughter as World War I. World War II followed all too soon. And since the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have been waiting for World War III. We seem to have given up hope that we can live together peacefully and instead have surrendered to the inevitability of another war coming in ordinal efficiency.
Today we view the systematic destruction of communities in the Gaza, in Ukraine, in Northern Africa, and in Pakistan. We drive by our own communities decimated by poverty and addiction. We seem frozen by despair and long for leadership.
Are We Doomed to Repeat?
Given our history, one would conclude that humans seem incapable of living together for any length of time in a peaceful and cooperative way. We appear to need to stay perpetually at odds with each other. Our current state of affairs suggests that we have become even more stalwart in our need to defend our respective positions and claim our rights, whatever we define those rights to be.
In accepting the surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur opined,
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.
“It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.” What kind of spirit must we possess to accomplish this? Certainly not the one dominating our world today.
Some Questions and Answers
With all the conflict that is now present in our lives, politically, economically, and environmentally, must it be inevitable that we resort to violence? Have we become overly tolerant of suffering? Do we really value the sacrifices our children, siblings, cousins, mothers, fathers, grandparents, et al., made in all the wars and conflicts? And if, so, how are we going to do things differently?
I will answer my own questions. It is not inevitable that we resort to violence. It does take effort to override our developmental circuitry that sees “other” as a threat. But we can (and must) make the effort. We are too tolerant of the suffering of others and have little capacity for our own. This must become better balanced by learning we all share so much more than makes us different. We can remain unique without giving away our humanity. Sadly, too often we give lip service to the sacrifices made when reminded. We need to be more mindful on a daily basis of what we might lose if we do not pay attention. Loss of life, love, and companions with whom we get to enjoy these blessings.
We do things differently by starting with ourselves. Gently and persistently challenging strongly held beliefs and asking where the belief came from, what I use to confirm or support it, and what, if anything, may be a different. We do it by listening rather than shouting at each other.
I treasure the stories my grandfather told me about his experiences in World War I, but more importantly, I treasure the values he left as his legacy – informed patriotism, honoring the sacrifices of those who would defend liberty, taking a stand against corruption, and always attempting to find a way forward without conflict.
Out of respect for all who served, I raised my flag and faced East at the 11th hour on the 11th Day of the 11th Month yesterday. I paid silent tribute to all combatants and innocents who died in war. I continue to say a prayer that no more sacrifices will need to be made and that we may find a peaceful way to co-exist.
2 responses to “Veteran’s Day, 2023”
Wonderful, perspective-filled piece — about war and possible “peace.” My husband and I (two guys) both honorably “served” (a total of ten years combined) in the Vietnam War era. We both had to “hide” (our gayness) to do that honorable act. And, both of us WHILE SERVING way back then, knew that the Vietnam War was a tragic, ignorant, hoax-filled mistake — driven by both paranoid ( grotesquely misapplied) “anti-communism” — rationalizing the profit lust of the USA’s military industrial complex (which Ike Eisenhower, a Republican) had SO warned us all against.
We now ARE both appalled that the country we so willingly served has been falling towards fulfilling Sinclair Lewis’ dire prophesy (back in the late 1940s) — that if a fascist dictator ever showed up in the USA, “he would be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Of course the loony extreme right’s claim that they are “Christian” is laughable, but only in the eyes of sane people. AND, our SPECIES no can long afford the massive stupidity (and environmental DISASTER) of wars, since the very survival of the human species now depends on our reversing the global climate catastrophe. Should we fail at that, Darwin will simply erase us from the scene — and all this discussion shall have become moot! (And BTW, the VA has been ANGELIC towards us both — a safe and affordable home mortgage at 2.75% and stellar health care (thanks to John McCain). Happy Veterans day to all.Loading…
Thank you for reminding us of the importance veterans have played resisting evil narratives that restrict freedoms and life for vulnerable populations. I too am a realist, but do hold hope for God’s ultimate “Shalom”. I think Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Christmas Poem written during our Civil war after the death of his wife, and then a son (a Union Soldier). It’s titled, “I hear the Bells on Christmas Day”. Here is a link: https://poets.org/poem/christmas-bellsLoading…