Thursday, November 09, 2006

This Remembrance Day is different

VICTORIA - This feels like a different kind of Remembrance Day.
It has always been an important day, a time to honour ordinary men and women who suffered and died because they accepted the call of their government or their conscience. A time to remember, so it doesn’t have to happen again.
We remember teachers and accountants and farmers prepared to kill and be killed for a cause — to fight evil, or defend the helpless or just to do their duty. Their neighbours were dying. They didn’t feel right staying home.
But Remembrance Day was always a look back. It was about something we hoped was behind us. That always been part of the point - a war to end all wars.
We stood silently beside our school desks for two minutes at 11 a.m., the weight of the moment heavy enough that no one fooled around. From the moment we first consider death - say at four or five - Remembrance Day has power.
But the day was always about past, increasingly distant, sacrifices. At its centre were men and women who moved a little more slowly each year on their way to the Cenotaph, their numbers always smaller.
And in a way, that was. It meant a whole generation, now two, has been freed from the need to fight. That’s partly why it felt important to keep the memories alive. Remembering the people who had faced the horror of war reminded us all how desperately we should be working for peace.
This year everything is different. When the wreaths are laid they are not just for people who died at Dieppe, or Vimy, so long ago.
They are for people like Pte. Blake Williamson, killed last month in Afghanistan.
The numbers are still tiny. Only 42 deaths in Afghanistan. That would be a few minutes’ casualties at Passchendaele, where Canadians died by the thousands to claim a few hundred muddy yards.
But that was 90 years ago. Those men died in black and white photos. They were our great-grandfathers and beyond. We didn’t know them. We can’t comprehend their lives.
We didn’t send them there.
Even the Second World War veterans’ experiences are far removed from us. For 80 per cent of British Columbians, the war is something they read about. When this generation’s parents came home from war, they were looking ahead, not back. It was something to be put away, hard work that had to be done.
This year is different. Canadians have been in danger - and died - in missions around the world since the Second World War, including Korea.
But this is the first Remembrance Day in half a century at a time when we have sent Canadians overseas on a combat mission, with a main goal of fighting and killing an enemy. A mission that inevitably will mean that some of our troops will die and be maimed.
That changes this day. We’re not just honouring long-ago sacrifices. There are men and women - our neighbours and relatives - killing people on our behalf today, and being shot or shattered by shrapnel.
This Remembrance Day should be about those people too. We haven’t done right by them. Canada edged into a military role in Afghanistan, with little public or political debate. We’ve sent our forces into parts of Afghanistan where no other country will venture. We haven’t demanded answers about what a successful outcome will be, how long that could take and how high a price we are prepared to pay. We’re even split on whether it’s a good idea to have our forces there at all.
None of that is right. If we’re asking people to do this, we need to be a lot more careful and diligent in protecting and valuing their lives.
So this Remembrance Day, think about the men and women who died long ago, the extraordinary courage and sacrifices or ordinary people.
But remember too the people fighting right now. We owe them our attention, now and every day.
Footnote: Americans today are looking back on the Iraq war and all those deaths and wondering if things could have been different if only they had paid closer attention to what was going on, if only they had asked more questions, demanded more answers. Canadians should fear that some day, we will be wondering the same things about Afghanistan.


Anonymous said...

Very true. We should not hesitate when the need truly exists, but never should we make the decision to go to war lightly.

Our world today is not as black & white, so it is harder to say with conviction that Afghanistan is the right time and place, and we can't expect the clarity of purpose that our grandparents had in WW2. But we do need better answers about what we're doing in Afghanistan, what we can reasonably expect to achieve and whether it's worth such a heavy sacrifice.

Kudos to the men & women over there--we owe them more careful thought than we've given "the mission" to date.

Anonymous said...

Have a listen to the Remembrance podcast on iTunes or the Royal British Legion blog.

Anonymous said...

Nov 11 was a big deal for us as kids.we stopped doing things at 11:00 for two minutes to remember our brothers and fathers, and sisters who did their duty in wars. It sort of lost it's luster when it became another day to go to the malls as a day off. I did 22 years in the military and soon started to realize, at least in our minds, that the folks having the greatest time that day was the politicians. The old vets were mostly there to honour their dead friends.Many of us have never stepped in a legion building, and lots don't do the parade events either. We had to attend a few when we were in the service.Last parade was to bury five of my course in the mid sixties, killed in a flying accident. Veterans? NO.

My oldest brother got very badly wounded in the Netherlands, declared dead a couple of times. Started out with a 100 percent pension and it somehow slipped to about ten percent. He stopped going to Veterans Affairs for anything.But he didn't die. He lived till last year. I know he never went into a legion place since the day he went in, burned his uniform in their fireplace along with his medals. He like so many others were told their jobs were secure, they weren't secure. Another brother and an sister were in WW2 and my father in WW1. All three were lucky and never got wounded. Now we have new veterans, some badly wounded, some dying and for what?. A long life ahead , some in pain. Sure some of the ex military folks do the parade thing. Good for them. But no good for me. Did you ever wonder why so many ex military vets are so against wars? One other thought, we in this country have thousands of ex military with much longer service than me. They don't qualify as veterans so of course get no medical benefits.If they serve long enough they get a pension which they pay into . A old flying chum of mine did two tours in WW2 in the skies over Europe. So what. Well years later he did the Korean airlift, three trips to Japan and by God he became a veteran. No one was more surprised that him when he was told he now qualified. The first two tours didn't qualify him.I very much enjoyed the military experience. Saw a lot of the world and as everyone else had a few close encounters, hauled a lopt of peace keeprs to assorted duties, but the BS put out by politicians is always hard to take. I still do my two minutes at the 11th hour 11 day, 11th month.

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