The Thing About Today – November 11

November 11, 2020
Day 316 of 366

November 11th is the 316th day of the year. It is Lāčplēsis Day, a memorial day for soldiers who fought for the independence of Latvia. It marks the victory over the West Russian Volunteer Army, a joint Russian-German volunteer force led by the warlord Pavel Bermondt-Avalov, at the 1919 Battle of Riga during the Latvian War of Independence.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Sundae Day.

Historical items of note:

  • In 1572, Tycho Brahe observed the supernova SN 1572.
  • In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod.
  • In 1675, Gottfried Leibniz demonstrated integral calculus for the first time to find the area under the graph of y = ƒ(x).
  • In 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman began burning Atlanta to the ground in preparation for his march to the sea.
  • In 1885, American general George S. Patton was born.
  • In 1889, the State of Washington was admitted as the 42nd state of the United States.
  • In 1921, the Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated by United States President Warren G. Harding at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • In 1922, novelist, short story writer, and essayist Kurt Vonnegut was born.
  • In 1926, the United States Numbered Highway System was established.
  • In 1930, patent number US1781541 was awarded to Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd for their invention, the Einstein refrigerator. The device is an absorption refrigerator which has no moving parts, operates at constant pressure, and requires only a heat source to operate.
  • In 1934, the Shrine of Remembrance in was opened in Melbourne, Australia.
  • In 1962, Kuwait’s National Assembly ratified the Constitution of Kuwait.
  • Also in 1962, actress, director, and producer Demi Moore was born.
  • In 1964, actress Calista Flockhart was born.
  • In 1965, Southern Rhodesia’s Prime Minister Ian Smith unilaterally declared the colony independent as the unrecognized state of Rhodesia.
  • In 1966, NASA launched Gemini 12.
  • Also in 1966, Irish model and actress Alison Doody was born.
  • In 1967, Northern Irish video game designer David Doak was born.
  • In 1974, actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio was born.
  • In 1992, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to allow women to become priests.
  • In 1993, a sculpture honoring women who served in the Vietnam War was dedicated at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • In 2004, the New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was dedicated at the National War Memorial, Wellington.
  • In 2006, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the New Zealand War Memorial in London, United Kingdom, commemorating the loss of soldiers from the New Zealand Army and the British Army.

November 11th marks several observances tied to the end of World War I.

Fighting on land, sea and air was ended by the Armistice of Compiègne, also known as the Armistice of 11 November 1918, signed at Le Francport near Compiègne in France at 5:45am. The armistice was meant to take effect at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918, but shelling continued until nightfall. The armistice initially expired after a period of 36 days and had to be extended several times, and a formal peace agreement was only reached when the Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year.

That event is commemorated in an annual event called Armistice Day. It is a national holiday in France, and was declared a national holiday in many Allied nations, however, many Western countries and associated nations have since changed the name of the holiday. After World War II, member states of the Commonwealth of Nations adopted Remembrance Day, while the United States government opted for Veterans Day.

Remembrance Day, sometimes known informally as Poppy Day due to the tradition of the remembrance poppy, is a memorial day for the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty, and following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries.

Veterans Day is a United States federal holiday that honors military veterans. Specifically, persons who have served in the United States Armed Forces and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day, the public holiday in May that honors and mourns the military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is also different than Armed Forces Day, which honors those currently serving in the United States military, and Women Veterans Day, which specifically honors women who have served.

November 11th also marks National Independence Day in Poland, commemorating the anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic in 1918 from the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. Following the partitions in the late 18th century, Poland ceased to exist for 123 years until the end of World War I, when the destruction of the neighboring powers allowed the country to reemerge.

One of the beautiful traditions related to Armistice Day and Remembrance Day (and, to a degree, both Veterans Day and Memorial Day) is Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.

According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. “In Flanders Fields” was first published on December 8 of that year in the London magazine Punch.

It is one of the most quoted poems from the war. As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used in efforts and appeals to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds. Its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world’s most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.

The poem and poppy are prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada, where “In Flanders Fields” is one of the nation’s best-known literary works.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place; and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
      In Flanders fields.

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

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