11/11/11 in American History
By Dinizulu Gene Tinnie
November 11 in the United States is a legal holiday, a day off work for many, with some even being paid, as we honor America’s veterans. However, it is much more than that, particularly this year, as we shall see. Veterans' Day was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, as the new name for what had been previously observed as Armistice Day, marking the date in 1918 of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris which ended “The Great War” (World War I), at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. That horrific war in Europe was finally ended when the United States entered it on the side of the western allies and tipped the balance which ended the long stalemate.
In yet another of those grand illusions of ships too big to sink, or banks too large to fail, “The Great War” was thought to be “The War to End All Wars,” but, would only prove instead to be only the beginning of what President Eisenhower would call “the military-industrial complex,” as he warned the nation against its power. He knew, from first-hand experience, what that power can do, as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in World War II, which was an even more deadly and more global conflict, and the first in which more civilians (in the millions) were killed than military personnel on the battlefield, culminating with the invention and deployment of nuclear bombs.
Like President Wilson who established Armistice Day as a holiday in 1919, Eisenhower initiated the name change to honor even more overtly the sacrifices and courage of the many soldiers who have fought in the defense of freedom, in all wars, including the then-recent Korea conflict (yet another war) of the early 1950s. Veterans Day garners even more recognition than ever this year, as it takes place on 11/11/11, and thus should be a time when, more than ever, we pause to recognize those who fought and sacrificed for the defense of freedom.
That recognition, however, goes far beyond one day of easy platitudes about “our brave men and women in uniform,” who are all too often sent into harm’s way by questionable political policies, and, truth to be told, who are all too often NOT treated with the fairness and respect they deserve when those who survive return home, by the very government they served. Veterans Day in 2011 challenges us, as a nation, to right these wrongs and to honor those who served 365 days a year.
Yet, this is only the beginning of the challenges, and opportunities, that this date presents in 2011, which, unbeknownst to most of us, has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year for People of African Descent, a global call to the human family to recognize the centuries of injustices still being done to some of its members, and a call to people of the African World to “show ourselves strong” in all of our struggles and achievements. In this light, November 11, 2011 has an even greater significance for America, in many ways, because of what occurred right here in the U.S., not in Europe or elsewhere, 170 years ago, on Friday, November 11, 1831, at 12:00 noon, in Jerusalem, Virginia.
That was the day and time that Nat Turner, leader of the most infamous slave insurrection in the nation’s history, which had been launched in August of that year, was hanged, and his body skinned and dismembered, with pieces handed out to onlookers as souvenirs. (One person is reported to have made a wallet from a piece of the skin.) Nat Turner led a fight for freedom of the enslaved, against slave owners who had no intention of ever ending the crime of slavery (which they made legal, while escape or resistance was illegal). While there may be nothing to be glorified in the rampage which killed some 60 whites, including women and children, as they slept, there is even less to glorify in the conditions which caused this revolt in the first place, or in the torture and rampant murders of hundreds of Black people at random, as far away as in surrounding states by racist militias and vigilantes in retaliation.