Earlier this year I reviewed a book entitled "Letters From the Boys," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
It's a poignant account of letters young soldiers from Green County, Wisconsin, sent home to their families and girlfriends describing their experiences in the trenches helping drive the Germans out of France during World War I. While the letters described homesickness and loneliness, they also contained accounts of valor, determination to win, and outright heroism.
Written by Carrie A. Meyer, an associate professor at George Mason University, the book serves as a perfect tribute to America's veterans.
The actual Veterans Day (known as Armistice Day until 1954) was Sunday, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — the unpopular war that was to end all wars, according to its zealous proponents at the time. Officially, it's being celebrated as a national holiday today.
Many in Wisconsin, especially its senior senator Robert M. La Follette, opposed sending U.S. troops to fight a war that was mainly an argument between Britain, France and Germany. Why should the sons of American families be sacrificed for an argument between kings and oligarchs? La Follette asked. The only American beneficiaries would be those who made war machinery and munitions, while the sons of working people and merchants would perish, he added.
No county in Wisconsin was more opposed to the war than Green, where the citizens of the county seat, Monroe, opposed joining the war by a 90-10 margin.
The opposition to the war was so great in Green County that a pro-war and self-styled vigilante group calling itself the Wisconsin Loyalty League warned military officials not to recruit young men from there because these German and Swiss immigrants were loyal to Germany and might even help the enemy if they were sent to the front.
When President Woodrow Wilson did indeed declare war, the War Department dismissed the "advice" from the Loyalty League, which had become infamous for declaring those opposed to the war traitors, even staging physical attacks on them and vandalizing their homes.
Turns out that was a wise decision. Most of those "suspect" anti-war kids from Green County were organized into the Wisconsin's 32nd Infantry Division, the National Guard unit that became one of the most decorated during the war and was nicknamed the "Red Arrow" for its penetrating drives through enemy lines.
What I like about that story is that it shows America's veterans aren't monolithic. They come from all walks of life whether it's Green County or thousands of other locales throughout the country. Some are pro-war, some anti-war; some are conservatives, some liberals.
When the arguments are through, those men and now, women, all come together to show that those against war are just as patriotic as those who are for it. Some fought "good" wars, some "bad" ones. But they all fought to do what they believed was necessary to help preserve the country they call home. And for that, they deserve to be honored.
Perhaps, hopefully sooner rather than later, their answering the call to duty will in fact make this a better place, one where there is no need to go to war.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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