In a nation where war exists far outside our boarders, how do we relate to Remembrance Day? Especially here in Canada where peacekeeping is toted more than war, what does a day meant to recognize the service of men and women in arms mean to us? We wear the poppies, we say the words, we participate in the silence, but does it affect us? When I was in high school, my choir sang a musical version of Flanders Field for Remembrance Day. To this day, that song – and that poem – makes me sad.
I’m not a pacifist, but nor am I what one might call “pro-war”. To me, that phrase always calls to mind someone who wants to be at war, rather than someone who sees war as a means to an end. In WWII, brave men and women fought a man who conceived the destruction of an entire race of people almost singlehandedly. That, to me, is an acceptable reason to go to war. “A war to end all wars” it was called. If only it had.
In my life I have known many people who serve or served their countries in times of war, and in times of peace. My grandfather, and both of my great-grandfathers, and my great uncles, as well as my great grandmother(s) served during WWII, and in wars that followed. My grandfather also served as a judge in Turkey as part of his military service. One friend’s husband was in Afghanistan, my soon to be brother-in-law is at a military college, and my father-in-law has served his country for three decades. Each and every one of them believed in something, and fought for something. As a woman who has never been directly affected by war past giving me another song to sing and a field trip to Vimmy Ridge in 2008, I always find myself having trouble discerning my feelings towards war, and military service. I still have trouble building connections in my mind between the green, rolling hills at Vimmy, and the bombs that caused them. In this era of war games and big CGI explosions, to a woman who until a year ago had never touched a gun – and still have not fired one – the thought of killing for any reason makes me pause. I don’t even believe in capitol punishment. Why should war be any different?
I’ve been blessed with a very sheltered life. I have never wanted for water, shelter, or safety. I have never feared that a bomb will fall on my house, or that during my walk home being shot is a large possibility. When my grandmother tells me about the time she spent in WWII London, and the hardships she endured there, they’re parts of history, certainly, but they’re history. They are not part of my reality. North America is blessedly far from most fighting. Or, at least, that’s what we thought until 9/11.
I remember where I was September 11th. I remember feeling fear for reasons I didn’t quite understand; I remember the teachers’ shock, a lowered flag, and my parents’ reactions of shock. War had come to us, in our safe and cozy little bubble.
Even now, being married to a man who lived in NY most of his life, and being part of a military family, I still do not feel the effects of war. Yet every year I’m told to remember.
Lest we forget.
If we forget, what will happen?
It seems to me that we’ve already forgotten.
We say the words and sing the songs and endure the silence, but few of us in this modern world understand what horrors were, and still are, part and parcel of war. We do not realize the hell that so many men, women and children lived through during WWI, WWII, and every war before and after. Lest we forget what is going on right now, every day, half a world away. Lest we forget how lucky we are that these people had faith enough in the future to defend it with their lives. Children went to war, people younger than I am now, some because they wanted an adventure, but also because they believed. They believed that the world is worth fighting for.
Our wars are different now. Not only are they wars on less defined “evils”, but they’re also not confined to battle fields. There’s wars on terrorism, wars on ecological destruction, wars on inequality. Every man and woman is fighting their own battle now, so lest we forget not only those who have given their lives to serve their countries and their fellows; lest we forget not only those who fought on fields and in deserts and on the ocean; lest we forget not only those who lost the chance to life.
Lest we forget that life is worth living, that the world itself is a gift, and that we should be grateful every day for those of us who came before to give us this precious gift.
This is not only the soldiers, but also those who love them.