Do you have a minute? Some people use that question when they have a quick message (which always takes much longer than a minute). But just how long is a minute? Holding our breath for a minute seems to stretch time; while that same minute on a parking meter can be ticket temptingly short.

George Burns used to say how long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you're on.

Nevertheless, I can remember a long, somber minute filled with deep, reverent thoughts. It happened every year at precisely 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month; 11-11-11 was deliberately chosen long ago by war-weary leaders, to mark the end of "The war to end all wars." In the midst of a giant, downtown parade, everything would come to a halt at 11 o'clock for one long minute. Everyone went silent -- parade members and onlookers alike -- as we thought of those Americans who had been lost in that war.

Eventually, Nov. 11 became known in America as Armistice Day. A day to remember those who had fallen on the far off battlefields of France while attempting to "Make the World Safe for Democracy" as President Wilson phrased its cause; and to commemorate the day, all the guns on the Western Front were silenced.

The wars didn't stop, however, and it appears we had merely been engaged in morbid type of kidding. Woodrow Wilson's noble 14 points with its League of Nations, where disputes could be settled peaceably, was twisted into unrecognizable, ineffectual debates; and later to be replaced by the even nobler United Nations, which hasn't fared much better in the war-and-peace department.


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And now a personal story concerning war and peace: It happened a few months after World War II had ended.

Though my 6th Troop Carrier Squadron was based in the Philippines, we had regular flights into Japan during the early part of the occupation.

On one of these, I was returning to the airfield outside Tokyo on a train from Yokohama. A young Japanese man about 20 was seated beside me.

I spoke no Japanese, but the English he had learned in high school wasn't bad. So we had a pleasant and friendly chat. All the while, I found myself thinking that had we met the summer before we might have been trying to kill one another. Another example of the absurdity of war!

Though I am a veteran, I still wish we had kept calling Nov. 11 Armistice Day ... the day the guns were silenced.

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.