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Veteran Tariq Khan reflects on the hollow legacy of Veterans Day and connects the history of November 11 to remembering those who fought for a better world.
By Tariq Khan and other BRRN members
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the working class people who made up the rank-and-file of the world’s most deadly militaries of the era, ceased firing at each other. This armistice unofficially ended the “war to end all wars.” And in several nations, November 11 became Armistice Day; a solemn day to reflect on the murderous futility of militarism, and to commit to peace. A tradition was born of observing a moment of silence at 11:00 am on November 11. To this day some still uphold this tradition.
But the notion of a war to end war was always a lie. As long as there is the rule of capital, as long as there is empire, as long as there is colonization, as long as there is racial domination, as long as there is patriarchy, as long as there is the state – there is war. After a second, larger, more technologically advanced war to end wars, as the U.S. entered a period of constant war, of proxy war, of secret war, of Cold War, the President of U.S. Empire Dwight Eisenhower changed Armistice Day, a solemn day of peace, to Veterans Day, a day to glorify militarism — not to be confused with Memorial Day or Armed Forces Day, which are likewise days the U.S. government has appointed to mystify the public’s mind with patriotic militaristic lies.
So here we are on November 11th.
November 11th. In 1831, Black people across Southampton County, Virginia, rebelled against slavery. Led by Nat Turner, the rebels walked silently from one slave labor camp to another, killing enslavers and freeing enslaved people along the way. The state and ordinary white society responded with murderous cruelty to uphold white supremacy and slavery. White vigilantes extrajudicially tortured and murdered some 120 Black people, regardless of involvement in the rebellion. The state executed some 55 Black people suspected of involvement with the rebellion. On November 11, 1831, in Jerusalem, Virginia, the state hanged Nat Turner, then flayed his body and beheaded him, to terrorize other Black people into submission. Through this kind of sadistic, ritualistic, group cruelty against Black people in Virginia, white people reestablished white domination in the region. November 11th.
November 11th. In 1886, exploited and abused industrial workers across the United States called for a general strike for the eight-hour day. At the McCormick plant in Chicago, the company locked out the union members and hired scabs to replace them. Police escorted the scabs to the plant, and when the workers moved to block the scabs from crossing the line, police shot two of them to death, at least two others died later from the wounds. The most influential labor organizers in Chicago at the time were anarchists affiliated with the International Working People’s Association. In response the anarchists held a mass meeting at Haymarket Square to protest the violence of the police. Without provocation, the police advanced against the crowd to violently break up the meeting. Someone threw a handmade bomb at the police, killing one officer. The police responded by firing indiscriminately; so indiscriminately that many of their shots hit other officers. Without evidence, police charged eight anarchist labor organizers for throwing the bomb, some of the accused anarchists were not even present at the meeting. The judge made it clear that even if they were not guilty of throwing the bomb, they were guilty of that most egregious crime against capital: organizing labor. The Haymarket Trial has since become famous globally as one of the great sham trials of U.S. history. Five defendants ended up sentenced to death: Louis Lingg, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons, and August Spies. Lingg committed suicide in his cell. November 11, 1886, the state hanged Engel, Fischer, Parsons, and Spies. August Spies shouted, “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are strangling today!” Engel and Fischer shouted, “Hurrah for anarchy!” Albert Parsons shouted, “Let the voice of the people be heard! O—”, and the executioner sprung the trap. November 11th.
November 11th. In 1919, a patriotic gang of American Legion members attacked an Industrial Workers of the World union hall. During the celebrations of Armistice day in Centralia Washington, the local American Legion chapter (A far right-wing U.S. veterans organization) Stormed the town’s IWW union hall. This was part of an escalating pattern of wanton violence by the bosses and the state to undermine the efforts of the IWW to organize lumber workers and exactly a year after a similar raid during the Armistice Day celebrations of 1918 had destroyed their previous hall. This time IWW members resisted. In a shootout with the Legion six were killed but the hall was eventually stormed by the police with all inside arrested. During the shootout Wesley Everest, an IWW member, lumber worker, and draftee who served much of his time in military prison for refusing to salute the flag, fled from the back of the building. He was soon swarmed by the legion. He killed one assailant but was then beaten, including in the face with rifle butts, and dragged through the streets to the city jail where he was left on the floor without treatment. In the middle of the night the police returned him to the reactionary mob who lynched him and shot him at the town bridge. The remaining prisoners were tortured by the police as the mob outside called for their deaths. The police later retrieved Everest’s dead body and returned it to the jail, in full view of the other Wobblies in the jail, with the noose still around his neck, to terrorize them. Seven IWW members were sentenced to prison terms of up to 40 years for the shootout but none of those who participated in the lynching were even tried, in spite of the fact that the members of the lynch mob were well-known to the public, and even bragged about it. The lynching of Wesley Everest makes the alliance between the state, capital, and murderous reactionaries abundantly clear. November 11th.
So here we are at another November 11th, with a white nationalist head of state massing troops at the already hyper-militarized border as a political ploy to intimidate asylum seekers, and we’re supposed to celebrate militarism: thank the veterans of U.S. invasions and occupations for their “service” to this blood-stained empire. Veterans Day is a patriotic erasure of state violence and people’s struggle. Rather than celebrate militarism, take moment this November 11 to remember the martyrs of the social revolution: Nat Turner, Louis Lingg, Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Wesley Everest, and all those whose lives have been stolen by the violence of the state and reactionary vigilantes. Hurrah for anarchy!
Tariq Khan is a military veteran and member of Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation in Central Illinois. For more on his personal story we recommend listening to Tariq’s podcast interview with It’s Going Down, “Into the Eye of the Troll Storm.” We also recommend other writings by Tariq Khan “The ‘Left-Wing Terrorism’ Narrative Doesn’t Understand Violence” and “3 Reasons Why We Need A More Revolutionary July 4.”