Remembrance Day

11 11 2016

14947404_1399040276803357_200309664430578209_nI’m always conflicted on this day. I feel the sorrow of the families who lost fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, in the various wars. My dad never talked about the war, though his service eventually killed him, too – radiated while working on radar towers, he died of lymphoma. The blame was clear enough for him to receive a small pension for it. Many of my uncles on my mother’s side survived the initial war only to die of illnesses caused by their participation in it. Others suffered capture and lived with the trauma of that for the rest of their lives.

Of course, many didn’t come home, and that was terrible. Poor young lads. Poor smooth-faced babies, forced to kill or be killed, some not even knowing what it was really about. Ordered into hell by older men, far from the front.

But my conflict comes from the “Lest We Forget” statement. Because it seems hypocritical, wrong, as we bomb Syria into dust, as holocausts blow through Africa and 1224a9362bcc40fea71bb6290f12c89f_18South America and Afghanistan and the middle east and we are all okay with that. We continue to send young people to fight old people’s wars, we kill them, we neglect to look after their lives after they are injured, and that’s only the official combatants. Those with the real boots on the ground, the people who live in the countries we fight our proxy wars and wars over oil and more – those we don’t care about at all. We’re lucky if we even think about them, let alone remember them.

We support governments who fight the battles of the oligarchy, who kill to support business, who support systemic violence that rapes the developing world and damages its people.

And then we vote in governments who continually refuse to support the veterans in real time. Broken veterans have to scramble for resources; their families are collaterally damaged.

elephant-dog-kindnessWe talk about how the battle at Vimy is where we grew together as a country. No, I argue. When we voted in universal health care and the social safety net is when we became us, Canada. When we showed caring can win over selfishness, when good will won over violence and self-interest.

And yet, every November 11th we wear a poppy and make mealy mouthed statements about remembering our veterans. I cry every time I hear the last post. We stand for two minutes, feeling all sad and respectful, and then quickly switch on our phones and leap back into a life that guarantees more deaths.

We do forget. We do break faith with those who died. McRae wrote his poem at the beginning of the war, when all was filled with optimism, before the millions of deaths caused us to reconsider. For a moment. Until the next war.

We need to redefine what the torch John McRae describes could be – not the torch of war, but the torch of love. We need to stop the endless killing.

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.” John McRae

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Remembering…but wishing we didn’t keep adding to those needing remembering…

11 11 2012

It’s Remembrance Day and I am filled with muddled emotions. I feel for all who served and died, all their families, all those who were harmed by war, on both sides. I don’t want to take anything away from their sacrifices. But I detest the glorification of war.

Maybe it’s cos I just came from Skyfall, where M asks the inquiry panel, “How safe do you feel?” just before the entire room is exploded by gunfire. The reality is I don’t feel very safe, given all the wars rumbling all over the world, the continual cruelty to each other. I’m listening to a song that talks about how much courage it takes to fight a war. I can’t help but think it takes more courage NOT to fight a war. To hold people accountable without violence, to peace keep, in all its forms. To be willing to share with the less fortunate, the old “Bread not bombs” theory.

I’m not taking away from the terrible suffering so many went through in the “great” wars. POWs and those maimed, those suffering from mental disabilities, or those, like my dad, who were radiated and died of cancer years later. He may not have suffered right at the time of the war, but he sure did later.

It’s just that as the frenzy around Remembrance Day grows, year after year, I worry about the effect this has on those who would wage war. Those who feel violence is the way to deal with disagreements or those pesky world leaders who espouse nationalization of industries that we want.  The people who send people into war are never on the front line, and their motives are rarely pure. The beating of the war drums works as they commit us to more and more situations where the goal is protected wealth. Killing for profits is ugly, but if we think it’s for a good cause, we’ll bite. In the US during the last few wars, it was deemed positively anti-American to question the war. It’s becoming like that here.

My dad enlisted when he was under 18. How many others did? Most of my extended family. Lots and lots and lots, because this was THE way to prove your manliness, to prove you had pride in yourself and your country. It’s twisted when you look at it a bit. Why wouldn’t the ability to not fight be considered more strength? You need only look at the faces of the soldiers doing peacekeeping during the OKA crisis, or those on the lines in Afghanistan before mission creep, or the soldiers stuck in Rwanda during the terrible carnage there. The strength needed to not fight was incredible. It broke some of them. As did killing.

I don’t have my dad’s full service story. He died before I took the opportunity to learn it from him. I wish I knew more. He never spoke of it except to mention he came back with TB and that the nurses cried when they saw the X-ray. He spent time on his return in the TB H-huts in Kingston, and taught himself to paint. He lived. And he’d tell one other story, which I think tells about his nature as well:

He was fixing a radar tower in the Bahamas where he was serving with the Navy (Oh for one photo of him in his whites!), and he dropped a wrench when he was way up in the tower. It fell from side to side, hitting various components, breaking them and sending out showers of sparks and minor explosions as it crashed back and forth, back and forth and he watched in horror. When it finally stopped, he shouted “DARN IT!” The Sergeant who was at the bottom of the tower checking on the noise gave him hell for not using the proper swear word. As for Dad, he felt completely emasculated. He told me it was the worst because here he’d had a perfectly good excuse to let loose a string of blue profanities and all he could muster at the time was a darn.

Such a gentleman. Makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Thinking of all those who were lost in all the wars great, small and in-between, and those who continue to lose their lives in state-sanctioned violence. Unlike many, I wish we could forget war. Unfortunately we have fresh reminders every day. Even if we do wear the poppies.

How about we work on ending the need to wear them?

(PS: the poppies here are fundraisers for the veterans – one of the good things we could do is look after vets properly, hey? So they don’t have to go begging for coins.)

 








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