LETTER: In a quandary over Remembrance Day

I think Remembrance Day is important, in its original sense of remembering the terrible sacrifices and pain of war.

Remembrance Day this year put me in a terrible, conflicted quandary. I really couldn’t figure out what to do.

I think Remembrance Day is important, in its original sense of remembering the terrible sacrifices and pain of war. It came out of World War I, the war to end wars, and I think the key message was: Lest we forget! Never again!

That core meaning of commemorating this day is the real way to keep faith with those who fell, I believe. So, for that reason I should attend, but my dilemma continues.

Remembrance Day has gradually been changed, to what really feels to me like a glorification of war. Honouring those who patriotically served their country  and are covered in glory for their valour is quite different from recalling the horrors they went through.

Making soldiers out as heroes, great people in our midst, is a crucial part of recruiting more soldiers. Keeping up a horrific tradition. I don’t believe it is an honour to fight in a modern war. Judging by the woundedness of returning soldiers from Afghanistan it is still as shattering as it was one hundred years ago in WWI.

(And, the shame of Canada, that our government is trying to shuffle Afghan veterans off before they become eligible for a pension, or failing to help them cope with their pain, is a travesty.)

A family member attended last year’s ceremony in Ottawa and she noticed that throughout the event there was not one mention of peace.

This is why I like the white poppy.

It’s a symbol that war should not be glorified, that peace is the real glory, the real human achievement. I don’t believe the white poppy is disrespectful of veterans or their sacrifice.

Indeed, I think it is a better way of honouring it, and of committing to preventing further gory sacrifices of our sons and daughters.

But all of that doesn’t explain my quandary for this year’s ceremony. If I were to go, I would wear the white poppy, perhaps alongside a red one, but more likely just the white one, to show that I remember.

Lest we forget!

I had several friends who attended the Nelson event, supporting Charles Jeanes who has carried a sign every year since 2005: “War Has No Victors.”

I admire his moxie and his principled act of witness. His valiant effort was noted prominently by Michael Enright on CBC’s Sunday Edition. But Enright also notes: “People will stare at him with anger in their eyes. One or two might confront him, again with anger in their eyes and in their hearts.” That’s the part that disturbs me. I’m not sure that confronting those people who may have lost family or friends is helpful.

They hear the white poppy message as something like: what a waste that sacrifice was. Of course that angers them, I can understand. And I’m not sure if it’s possible to carry a message that they are able to hear.

Remembrance Day has become polarized, and it is a shame, because I think it is too easy to forget.

I am not an absolute pacifist. I think there are some things worth fighting for, dying for. But I don’t think the profits of Lockheed Martin or the military industrial complex are a good cause.

I believe the attack on Iraq was to protect American oil corporation profits, after Saddam Hussein decided to sell oil for Euros rather than American dollars.

I agree with Charles Jeanes that the war on the poor long suffering people of Afghanistan also was not at all about protecting Canadians or our country, or even about guaranteeing human rights to Afghanis.

These modern wars have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, they will be recalled in history as nothing short of barbaric.

This is not the fault of the loyal Canadian soldiers who served and sacrificed. But it’s difficult to criticize the war without making them feel like their commitment or effort is being shamed.

Support our troops! is a brilliant slogan, because there is no arguing with it. Say what you like about the commitment and bravery of the soldiers, but if you criticize the leaders or the whole idea, they have to take it personally.

So I did not go to Remembrance Day. Call me chicken, if you like. But I don’t think that there’s a constructive dialogue to be had at the event.

I don’t think it will help heal, or help remember the horrors of these terrible wars. I admire the dauntless folks who do go, but I don’t have the jam. I don’t think. It was not easy.

 

Keith Wiley

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