Under A Sheltering Tree

On this day, 90 years ago, an armistice was signed that brought to an end The Great War, The World War, The War To End All Wars.

Barely two decades later, those hopeful names were reduced to a mockery as the Second World War began.

Initially, the day was commemorated here in the United States as “Armistice Day.” It was intended to observe the end of the greatest war the world had ever seen. In the wake of World War II, which dwarfed pretty much every aspect of the Great War, it was redefined as “Veterans Day” to honor not just those who died in the first World War, but all those who served in all wars. It became a counterpart of sorts to Memorial Day, which honored those who died in the service of our nation. With Veterans Day, we now had a day to honor those who survived.

Thomas Jefferson, among his many memorable quotes, once said that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This has been the subject of much speculation over the precise meaning of this quote, and I have spent some time thinking about it myself.

To me, this is a reminder that freedom is NOT the natural state of man. When one looks through history, “freedom” is a very rare thing, and most often the result of great struggle.

Liberty is not a right, by the laws of nature. It can not be taken for granted, or it will be lost. It must be continually fought for, struggled for, and requires that patriots shed their blood to win it, and tyrants have their blood shed to yield.

But not all wounds of war are fatal. Indeed, not all wounds of war are physical. All who serve their nation in time of war bear some scars, some permanent change in their person. That service leaves a permanent mark on any one.

The “blood” they shed might not be the sort recognized by crime labs and hospitals, but their bleeding is undeniable. And that metaphorical blood also helps nourish the tree of liberty.

On this day, when once we fantasized that we had fought the last war, we need to take at least a few moments to remember and honor their service. For without them, we might not be enjoying the fruits of the tree of liberty today.

To all who served our nation: thank you. At times it might not seem we have properly appreciated your sacrifices, and at times we have not been worthy of them, but you have guaranteed that at least we will have the opportunity to learn from those mistakes — and, perhaps, become worthy of all you have provided us.

The Knucklehead of the Day award