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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: From the 'War to End All Wars' to today

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Published:   |   Updated: November 11, 2013 at 05:52 AM

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They are all gone now, leaving us with their stories and grainy black-and-white films of what was known as The Great War.

I have a picture of my grandfather, John Herman Sohl. He was in the Army but because of his German heritage they wouldn't give him a gun. What's ironic is that the picture shows him in a cook's uniform holding a butcher knife, which you figure gave him the double option of poisoning the troops or going after them with that knife.

More than 9 million people perished in the four-year conflict and by the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice was signed, the world was exhausted.

So stunned was the world by the savagery and destruction of the war, it also became known as “The War to End All Wars,” with the belief that the magnitude of what had happened would be enough to end any future wars.

What the world did not realize was that the punitive nature of the Treaty of Versailles signed months later would only plant the seeds of an even larger global war two decades later.

Unlike our own Civil War where the defeated Southern soldiers were allowed to keep their arms and return to their farms in a unified country, or much later a Marshall Plan that would rebuild a shattered Europe, the end of World War I was only a prelude to the next one.

It would be the ensuing wars that later caused Congress and President Eisenhower to change the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, remembering and honoring all veterans.

 

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In a lot of ways we are doing a better job of helping veterans the other 364 days of the year than we used to.

I had the opportunity to visit the Office of Veteran Services at the University of South Florida last week. Close to 1,700 veterans are enrolled at USF, which has been ranked as the fourth most friendly school in the country to veterans.

There is a terrific facility with recreational rooms and computer banks and individual rooms for studying and counseling.

But that is the good news.

Away from the campus, veterans find it difficult making the transition to a civilian world, where they often find themselves without the current skills needed to step directly into the workforce.

Out in the real world, veterans make up too much of the ranks of the homeless and the mentally ill.

I think one of the issues is that without a draft, the volunteers who serve in the military do not have as many privileged parents back home fighting for their rights.

When was the last time you saw the war in Afghanistan headlined on the nightly news or the front page of the paper?

And if the war has become something for the back pages, what of those who have served and come home? What happens to them when there are no jobs or when employers have second thoughts about hiring someone with a different set of skills?

This Veterans Day would be a good one to seek out those who have served their country and now only want to become a part of it again.

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