Thursday, November 10, 2005

Remembrance Day

To be honest I think I've always had trouble with Remembrance Day. I'm not totally sure what I'm supposed to do with it. As the day approaches I always find myself thinking about war, and when I think of war it makes me quite sincerely want to puke.

Part of my problem with November 11 is that I am not always sure whether we're honouring veterans or honouring war. Sometimes I fell like the ceremonies are skirting the issue and romanticizing the ugly realities. Maybe I should get off my moral high horse and just appreciate what the veterans have done for me instead of thinking so much. Maybe I'm too far removed from the wars of old to have the right to say anything at all. Maybe I'm just a jerk. I don't know. The day just bothers me.

No doubt it is an unsettling, and disturbing holiday. More like Good Friday than Labour Day that's for sure. We generally have a moment (not even a minute) of silence on Remembrance Day, but it feels to me like the most appropriate way to spend the morning might actually be doubled over a toilet wretching. My suspicion is that many veterans feel the same way. In fact, I suspect I don't know the half of it.

I asked my friend Terry the other day if he thought it was commendable, or even possible, to be anti-war and pro-veteran at the same time. I asked him that because the impression I get from folks south of the border is that such a thing just isn't allowed. If you speak out against war you are interpreted as dishonouring veterans. Terry figured there are worse positions a person could hold. It would be far worse to be pro-war and anti-veteran.

I'm serious though. Can't I object strongly to war and honour the veteran at the same time? My Grandpa served in World War II but I can't remember him ever talking to his grandkids about it. Sometimes I'm not sure which of those things I respect him for more. My wife's Great-Grandpa died jumping on a grenade to save his fellow troops. He recieved the first posthumous Victoria Cross for it too. We should honour these men, and the others too.

But even as I think of them, a different type of soldier comes to mind as well. I've seen footage of contemporary soldiers who seem to almost be revelling in the "glories" of war. Writing the names of their adversaries on bomb casings with felt marker the same way we label our lunches for our kids. Its almost like they think its a video game. Admittedly I haven't seen a lot of that kind of footage, but it does stick in one's brain doesn't it? Images like that make me wonder what side I'm on. That's when I get a sick feeling in my gut again. I never have had a strong stomach.

I suppose I should be more gracious with soldiers of today. After all, I can only imagine that it would take a great deal of psyching up to go into battle. You'd probably really need to find a way to want to go. You'd probably need to be utterly convinced that you were off to face the enemy. You'd probably have to let yourself get really mad. I don't know because I've thankfully never had to do it. I can only imagine.

Actually, let's be honest. I can't imagine. The thought of holding a gun, let alone firing it at another person, is quite plainly beyond the scope of my comprehension. I'm not trying to sound morally superior, I just really can't imagine it. If I was called to war I'd probably want to call myself a "conscientous objector", but more accurately I'd probably have to say I was a wimp.

With what I know of history, it does seem that at times war is a necessary evil. By calling it that it makes it sound like I'm saying that veterans did evil, but I'm not. I merely think that one of the best ways I can honour what the veterans went through for us is to name war for what it is. After all, isn't it honouring to our veterans to let the nightmares they faced serve as a reminder to not let it happen again? Isn't the best sort of remembrance to do everything in our power to keep the peace for which they fought? Are not the cross-strewn cemetaries and the survivor's fever dreams crying out to us to make the most of the freedom they bought?

Good Friday is always followed quite quickly by Easter Monday, but Remembrance Day is followed by what? Wishful thinking. Santa is everywhere. Certainly I think we should give pause on this day to honour the sacrifices of those who have gone before. But this day also needs to be a compelling catalyst for us to work as valiantly for peace and hope in the years between as they did in the years of war.

1 comment:

Tony Tanti said...

We should remember for the sole purpose of not letting it happen again. In that way you are absolutely right, one can be pro-veteran and anti-war, that's what peace is all about.
What struck me most this Nov. 11th was the fact that war is going on right now and not to save the world from someone who tried to take it over but to make the world's empire feel safe.