Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Lest We Forget

November 11. Remembrance Day - the day that Canada honours  the soldiers who have served and continue to serve Canada in times of conflict and times of peace.

 I want to be a pacifist. I want to say that killing isn't the answer, that all wars must stop. I want to live in a world where drones don’t massacre wedding parties by accident, where the military –industrial complex is only a sad and shameful memory, where oppressive governments are  are not propped or installed up by foreign intervention for profit and ideology.  I want to be able to assure my children that all soldiers everywhere  always act morally and that they never do anything horrible to people. That innocent men, women and children will never again have to bear the cost of war to their businesses, their homes, their families, and their bodies.

But it is always more complicated than that, isn't it.

Panda recently asked me about war – where it was, why did it happen, would it happen here. I explained to her about foreign aggression – about people who want power, want resources, want land . About  what they are willing to do to get them. She decided that those people are bad people. Then we talked about how the other  people would fight back, to protect their homes, families, food, and freedom. She decided that those people were good people. But, I asked her, what if you were a mommy with no food to feed your children and no home to shelter them, but your neighbour had more than he could use? What if that neighbour refused to share?  Is it okay to let your children starve because that guy over there wants to buy another big screen TV, instead of giving you some food and a house?  Of course that is simplistic, but I needed to introduce some grey into her world view, and she is six. She got it. She said that maybe the people who were defending, too, might hurt someone by accident, someone who was just trying to run away or something. She decided that war is complicated, and hard, and everyone gets hurt.

Smart kid.

I know it is a thorny topic. I know that a lot of people don’t support the troops. I do. I support the troops, but I don’t always support the wars. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, as they say. Sometimes as a nation we are where we have no business being, and sometimes we aren’t where we should be. Sometimes we have no better choices, and sometimes we make the wrong ones. Sometimes, as a nation, we just have to go with what we think is right, based on faulty or incomplete information. And sometimes our leaders lead us astray for monetary or political gain. And I know that I don’t have the requisite knowledge or skill to decide that, so I will mainly reserve judgment, and just recognize that being a soldier is a difficult, painful job. The men and women who choose to take this path do so for a myriad of reasons, but the result is (mostly) the same. They expose their bodies, minds and hearts to some of the worst things imaginable so that maybe someone else, somewhere, won’t have to. Whether that means an eventual end to conflict (as some believe) or that the kid in that hut over there won’t lose his family today to a man with a gun and a fervent conviction in his right to impose his beliefs.

So we try to take part in some small way every year, whether it is to bundle up the kids and head off to Cenotaph  for the ceremony, or simply observe a few minutes of silence at eleven in the morning. This year we made poppies with the kids. We would have bought them from the veterans as we do every year, but we couldn't find anyone selling them. I don’t know if the recent attacks on soldiers in Canada has anything to do with that, but I suspect it might.

I’ll end with this with Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields”, written  May 3, 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow,
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

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.

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