Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
Armistice Day and Veterans Day
On this 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, I want to pay tribute in my small way to the incredible significance of that first armistice day, as well as to all the veterans.
Last year, I dug into the origins of Veterans Day and learned more about Armistice and the history of that shift of term. Today, many more of us are aware because of this major anniversary, including well-respected international leaders of France and Germany who are sharing the commemoration and renewed commitment to the armistice. Still, it's worth repeating, just as it's worth our remembering today.
So here are some selections from my post last year focusing on the meaning and significance of Armistice Day, with some revisions and additions.
I was pleased when I found the history of Veterans Day on the US Department of Veterans Affairs website because it showed me origins and meanings of the day that go well beyond what I understood. It showed me the original name--Armistice Day. And it showed me the original words of the proclamations. I found those words moving, and ones we should do better at sharing and acting upon.
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
“It is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations”
“This date,” of course, refers to November 11. The date is not a random one. The original Armistice Day celebrated the armistice, as the website explains: “an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of 'the war to end all wars.'”
After World War I did not end all wars, after World War II, after Korea, the day to recognize the Armistice, the cessation of hostilities, became Veterans Day, the day to honor the veterans of all wars. From commemorating a ceasefire to commemorating soldiers.
We may have given up on the notion that we can end all wars, but the “optimism of will” that created this day originally should persist in how we honor this day. After the horrors of World War I, the people of the United States resolved not to honor their veterans but to honor the armistice and to keep the armistice going by rebuilding connections with other nations and other peoples.
The concurrent resolution by the US Congress on June 4, 1926, deserves to be read in full:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Notice the celebration of the resumption of “peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed.”
Notice the commemoration through activities “designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”
Notice the invitation to the people to observe with ceremonies “of friendly relations with all other peoples.”
We understood then.
Having undergone the devastation of a brutal war, the hostility between nations, we understood the need to build peaceful relations, mutual understanding, and friendly relations with “all other peoples” and their nations.
We understood then.
What a different response to the situation today. The VA website ends with a statement of the important purpose of Veterans Day today:
"A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good."
Only some of the original meaning remains in that statement. Certainly, we should honor veterans of all wars. Certainly, veterans deserve respect for their service and sacrifice.
But let’s notice those last four words, “for the common good.” And let’s define “the common good” as it was in the origins of this armistice day, as what was good for all peoples of all nations—mutual understanding and friendly relations. Let’s recommit to “patriotism” and “love of country” as doing what is good for our country by building global understanding and peaceful relations.
The world is different today, I know. September 11 has changed the meaning of November 11, even if the word for the day had never changed. We can’t depend on relations among nations to preserve peace. Some reject the possibility of mutual understanding; others are unwilling. For some, it has changed the meaning of "never forget" to one of revenge.
But how does it change the meaning of November 11 to focus not on the armistice but on the veterans? I’d like to think our goals remain the same—peaceful relations that will reduce the chance of more people becoming veterans of wars. In the Commonwealth of Nations, Armistice Day evolved into Remembrance Day.
So let's remember what we're remembering.
Let’s honor our veterans by recognizing what they have sacrificed and by doing everything in our power to keep others from having to make such sacrifices in the future. Let’s honor our veterans by reducing the number of future veterans.
This year, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, at the moment of the ceasefire, I remembered how it began, and I understood better. I vow to look for ways, even in these times of divided and dispersed hostility, to rebuild mutual understanding and peaceful relations with all peoples.
I feel a bit like Linus at the end of the Charlie Brown special proclaiming the true meaning of Christmas. But I hope a difference here might be that some of you, like me, might not have known of the original call behind Veterans Day, the original commemoration of armistice,
“to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.”
That’s a purpose that calls for a different sort of response.
We understood then. Can we understand now, too?
Let's all meet on this Armistice Day. And never forget.
Gee, did you know that tomorrow are the US midterm elections?
How could you miss it?
As part of my drive to help people become aware of the ways language, texts, and genres influence us without our noticing, I’m compiling another list for you to ponder—or add to.
What genres are shaping our votes—and whether or not we vote?
Here are a few:
Political ads (including Smear tactics, Racist ads, Inflammatory ads) on radio, tv, social media
Bot phone calls (aka political ads)
Tweets from politicians
Campaign literature (hung on our doors, handed to us at the grocery store, mailed to us)
Voters’ guides (League of Women Voters, local community guides, your favorite news source)
News stories about the economy, migration, the Supreme Court, racist killings, tweets, and … pick your favorite topic
Political discussions at work, at the dinner table, with friends
Political arguments at work, at the dinner table, with friends
Voting Rights Act—oh no, wait, that one’s gone, and it was just a single, powerful, text
Voting restrictions (signature matching, photo IDs, home address requirements, purged voter registries, prior felonies, and so on and so on and so on)
Get out the vote phone calls
Excuses for not voting (too busy, too tired, my vote doesn’t count, it’s all rigged, I don’t like any of the candidates)
Responses to excuses for not voting (ask your employer for time off to vote, ask for a ride, go with friends, if not a candidate then support the democratic system, and on and on and on—VOTE ANYWAY!!)
Polling places (especially their locations—see Dodge City in my own Kansas, long lines in Atlanta, Georgia, and other big cities, and so on and so on)
Free rides to polling sites
Discounts from Uber, Lyft, for rides to the polls
Voting machines (electronic, paper trail or not, party ticket option or not, and so on)
Voting booths (and all that image represents)
Ballots (and sample ballots viewable ahead of time)
“I Voted” stickers
“I Voted” social media posts
I’m sure I missed many bits of language influencing our votes, but most important is what influences whether you vote.
Pay special attention to the genres encouraging you to vote, trying to make it easier for you to vote. Be especially critical of the genres inhibiting your vote, encouraging you not to vote.
Don’t let any of these genres—or anything else—keep you from voting.
If you need information—about where to vote, what’s on the ballot, voter ID requirements, or anything else—you can get that information from the US government here
(So you know the credibility of that source, here is the US.gov URL: https://www.usa.gov/election-day )
If you live in Lawrence and need a ride, email me and I’ll get you to your polling place.
So just one final word:
Horror movies/scary movies
"Trick or treat!"
Carved pumpkins (stencils, pumpkin faces)
Decorated houses (spider webs, ghosts, recorded spooky voices)
Halloween candy (individually wrapped, smaller, kid friendly)
Halloween music--uh, no. Well, maybe one (see You Tube video below)
What did I miss?
I had a nice surprise this morning, and another one last week.
This morning, a newsletter appeared from the provost's office in my university that featured "Faculty in their Prime." I was one of them! I was surprised to be included at all among such great colleagues (I didn't know about it ahead of time). I was also surprised both by the "prime" part and by the bio featuring my blog! It was great to see this public adventure of mine receiving attention instead of the usual list of my scholarly works. Thank you!
The other nice surprise this past week was the arrival of actual physical copies of my most recent book, Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Genre Studies, co-edited with my colleague and friend Carolyn Miller. I had known that Routledge had published it on their website, but I hadn't seen the actual book, and somehow that physical copy made it real. Thank you to Routledge!
So in recognition of my two nice surprises this week, I want to point folks to some of my blog posts that might help them see why I find genre so fascinating. After all, I've been writing this thing weekly over two years now, and there's a lot of stuff to sort through over in the Previous Posts and Archives lists. And most people don't think of genre the way I (and others in my field) do--as the ways we get things done in the world, as expectations about how to act, not just what forms to use. As things that can show us ourselves and our communities.
After I'd hit my two years (plus some) anniversary last August, I wrote a post about how my blog came to be, and it references lots of the topics I write about and some of my favorite posts: How to Birth A Blog It would be a good one to start with, if you're interested.
An overview post explains how I see genre in two pictures. To play with a particular genre we use all the time, I wrote a series on how to make a good (and bad) apology. I still use the practical advice in that one to make my apologies meaningful. Teachers and students tell me they like the series I did on the syllabus as a genre. Turns out the syllabus reveals a lot about our roles and expectations.
On a more disheartening note, I've written about how genres, with their usual ways of getting things done, can make things seem normal that we could and should be challenging. One I wrote about was the normalizing of a Nazi sympathizer through a New York Times profile on him.
But the normal ways of doing things can vary, too. Recently, I wrote about how Aretha Franklin's funeral and John McCain's funeral were so different from one another, even as they were both recognizably funerals.
I hope you might have some time to browse around in the blog. I talk a lot about how Words Matter, too. Maybe as you browse, you'll find a nice surprise yourself, something that makes you laugh or think. If you do, I hope you'll let me know.
And my thanks again for two nice surprises this past week. May your week bring you your own nice surprise.