I’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 South 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.
We 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