Remember

I have always had mixed feeling about Remembrance day. As a child, I looked forward to the day off school and a chance to watch history documentaries…mostly about World War II that filled the television channels throughout the day.

I understood the message of remembering the soldiers that had fallen, but always assumed that remembering veterans and the cost of war was a natural human sentiment. Regardless of your feelings on warfare, growing up I believed that everyone had a sense of reverence for those willing to lay down their lives in the hopes of what they believed was building a better world for the rest of us. Sentiments on whether warfare improves the world aside, I always held a certain respect for anyone willing to sacrifice so much in the hopes of improving the world for others.

The other day, I began to question this belief when a couple of women visiting from Germany pointed to my poppy and asked what I was wearing. After my initial response of “a poppy” failed to remove the curious expressions from their faces, I explained the Flanders field poem, Remembrance Day and our general practices.

The women paused before the older of the two finally said: “Hmm, in Germany we don’t have such a day”.

“Oh, do you have some equivalent day”, I asked, assuming that they had perhaps a Veterans Day or war memorial day.

“No, we just try to forget”, she replied, a brief smile of embarrassment crossing her face.

The whole experience left me questioning a basically held belief that we hold an innate concern for the sacrifice of soldiers. My education in history doesn’t leave me with an excuse for why I held this belief for as long as I did. After all, history is rife with examples of people failing to recall past events and falling into the same pitfalls time after time.

At the end of the day, my feelings towards Remembrance Day still remain mixed. I still question the cost and the rewards of war, but sympathize and admire those willing to sacrifice so much in their belief of building a better world. There is a very real concern that without such holidays, people may begin to try and forget the costs of war, inevitably opening the door to future wars when the costs are shrouded in time.

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2 thoughts on “Remember

  1. Hi Trevor;

    Thank you for your Remembrance Day thoughts. I understand the mixed feelings. I see the ritual of remembering on this day as a sacred duty, but I understand the ambivalence. There is really nothing good that comes of war, in my opinion, other than the defeat of those who would do harm to others; the great battle of Good against Evil, that, I believe, we all have to face in one way or another to different degrees. When it comes to taking up arms and the possibility of kill or be killed though, that is a whole other dimension. We who live in Canada are so fortunate to not have to deal with this sort of situation on a daily basis like those in other parts of the world. It’s like we live on an oasis of relative calm in comparison to the Middle East.

    When Remembrance Day rolls around each year I am thankful, like you, for those who have willingly taken up arms and stood in harm’s way on my/our behalf. I remember one uncle who served in WWII, and worked his way from Belgium through Holland and into Germany with the Medical Corps. He saw, no doubt, some of the most horrific carnage of that war. Nobody in the family, as far as I know, until near the end of his life, was aware of what he had been through, because he never talked about it. He always struck me as a big, gruff, tough guy, with a gravelly voice, who had probably been in his share of brawls, but when we asked him about his service one day, shortly after he and my Dad had gone to see “Saving Private Ryan”, we asked how his experience was compared to the shocking beach scene in that movie, all he could say was; “It was worse.”, and then tears filled his eyes and he was too choked to say any more. I was so startled, and moved by this. My eyes were opened. Sixty years later, he was right there again, experiencing it again, in a flash. He was forever damaged by what he went through, and nobody in our family realized that because he had been keeping a lid on it all this time. Who of us would have understood? Who but someone else who had been there?

    On November 11 each year I think of Uncle Mike, and the many before him and after him who wittingly or unwittingly were drawn into such horror. I remember how many people have paid so dearly for their involvement in such conflicts, of how completely and utterly destructive the whole business is, of how even when we “win” we lose. And still, so many respond to the call even when they have an idea about the stakes. That ‘s worth remembering.

    • Thank you for taking the time to provide a thoughtful comment. I think you hit the nail on the head in that what is worth remembering is the effort that humans make to stand up for what they believe is the right thing to do despite the tremendous stages. We may disagree with the outcomes, but I cannot challenge their dedication.

      On that note, I do have a friend who is a former soldier from the Middle-East embroiled in combat with drug cartels. Despite admitting that those he fought were part of a criminal underworld that had a reputation for cruelty in the pursuit of profit, he still maintained that war was useless.

      So strongly is his belief that he refuses to wear a poppy on Remembrance day, arguing that people need to simply stop being soldiers.

      Though I feel I have not had enough time to think through his belief, his dedication to stamping out the military calling and his own experiences with the military are enough to make shake off the last vestiges of support I hold for arguments on the positive effects of war.

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