Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day, 2012

Yet again I am struck with the quiet hypocrisy going on around Remembrance Day. I had to watch a grandstand being erected, local politicians standing atop it and giving cliché speeches about Canada's war veterans. I wonder how many of them believe the old lines; have they heard them so many times over the years as to believe them, or have they long since decided that we, civilians, can't truly understand their sacrifices and trials? I wonder if they can see how we try to see their lives, and if so, do they forgive us our weaknesses?


Remembrance Day should never be about just our veterans, or our families, or even today's military. Canada is a unique country in that war has not truly touched this nation's soil. Minor skirmishes, an occasional shelling, and the all-too-familiar sight of a flag-draped coffin are the real marks of war on Canadian territory - the untouched, weather-beaten cenotaphs simple monuments that, but one day a year, are both accepted and forgotten signs in settlements around the country. Remembrance Day should be about ideals. Not the basic, incorrect knowledge that our brave men and women fight to protect Canadian values - we are not so unfortunate for that to be true - but for the truth of the matter, that soldiers, sailors, and aircrew in our uniform fight so that others might have the chance to decide for themselves.

We should remember not the abstract protection of Canada that was won on Hill 355 in Korea, but the freedoms those sacrifices still have bought in the southern half of the peninsula. We should not recollect, somehow, that the men on Juno Beach protected us, but that they sacrificed for the people of France, all-but complete strangers. We did not protect our strange, unique identity when we invented peacekeeping and our soldiers saved innocent lives in Cyprus and Bosnia and the Congo. The Canadians whose graves are so lovingly tended by the citizens of the Netherlands did not die to protect or save Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, but instead, to push the Nazis out of Amsterdam and the Scheldt and the rest of the Low Countries.

We should not remember the senseless wars, the colonial wars, as victories. The Boer War was imperialistic in nature - we honour the bravery of those who participated but we shouldn't approve of the outcome. We should remind ourselves that Canadians can do what is wrong as well as what is right. The First World War was nonsensical, and too many young Canadians drowned in mud, choked by gas, shelled, shot, or stabbed in the trenches. Vimy Ridge was a task Canada accomplished and an achievement we passed but it is not a laurel we grabbed, rather a scar that cannot ever heal.

If we are to really honour Canada's war dead, we must remember their victories for what they were. Some of them, the greater, benefited mankind, and there is not a moment I am not proud to consider the men and women who defeated the Nazis in France and Holland, stopped the Communists in Korea, placed themselves between gunfire in the Congo, and, most recently, helped stop a murderous Gaddafi in Libya, for those people fought to give others a simple set of rights - the right to choose without having a gun pointed at you, the right to send your daughter to school for an education, the right to believe as you see fit, and the right, simply, to exist. But I am saddened to think of the killing fields of Flanders, the wastes in Afghanistan once our mission became muddied, the bloodied beaches of Dieppe.

In Flanders Field has no meaning to me now. It is spoiled by the jingoism within, and is a sign of remembering the wrong. It is about carrying on a struggle for the long-dead kings and queens who no longer rule our destiny. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to recite something by Wilfred Owen, something that reminds us of the terrible price war brings:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells.
We die, in Canada, not for our own causes, but for the causes of others. Those causes have been both good and bad, though I think more towards the good of later years. Let us remember the good and bad and focus on the good - but always, always, be focused on the price.

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