Odd Thoughts: Remembering keeps the peace


I sometimes find myself a bit confused about what we’re supposed to remember on Remembrance Day.

Personally, I like to reflect on the number of people whose lives were destroyed by war.

I think of the senseless waste of dead young men lying on battlefields, dreams never realized, families that never were, children deprived of parents, mothers left to mourn sons, wives and sweethearts thrust into uncertain futures of tears born of memories of dreams of families that never happened.

Sometimes my mind wanders further, into fields of inventions that were never invented, great novels that were never written, heroic acts that could have saved lives in civil disasters instead of being used up on a battlefield, fighting enemy soldiers with unfulfilled dreams of families and unrealized great accomplishments of their own.

I ponder the reality that some wars are necessary… or rather, that some wars become necessary.

But all wars are mistakes.

They always come from errors in leadership.

The errors can arise from arrogance born of religion or political stupidity.

The errors are often built on a foundation of greed.

But they are always a failure of diplomacy, of communication, of understanding, or simply of decency.

And it’s those (usually) young men whose bodies litter the battlefields who are caught in the middle.

I was taught when I was little that, every year when Remembrance Day rolls around, I should think of the peace that was fought for.

My country and I have lived in peace for most of my life so far – indeed, I can say for most of my life, without the “so far,” because I am unlikely to live long enough for the years of war, even if they continue to the end of my days, to outnumber the peace.

These are the things that I think about as I listen to the sounding of the Last Post at Remembrance Day ceremonies every year. 

And every year, my thoughts are punctuated by an uncontrollable gasp as the Sergeant at Arms concludes the roll call with, “They do not answer, Sir!”

I can get teary just thinking about that, even as I write the sentence.

But I find it significant, nevertheless, that I noticed an obvious decline in attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies over the years… until Canada became involved in the first Persian Gulf War.

Attendance at cenotaphs suddenly perked up.

Suddenly, people seemed eager to remember again.

That’s sad.

It’s sad not because more people are going out to honour those who risk everything to protect our way of life, or who sacrifice the security of their personal home and hearth to stand in harm’s way on behalf of people around the world who need Canada’s help.

It’s sad because forgetfulness appears to be a symptom of peace. And forgetting how our peace was won inevitably leads back to the jolting reminder of war.

I know that our leaders faithfully attend Remembrance Day services, and that they always have, even in times of peace.

But to me, their motives are suspect. 

Forgive me my cynicism, but I believe they feel it’s a price they have to pay for their political careers.

I have no doubt that they are there to honour the sacrifices and the fallen.

But I doubt they are there to remember.

Otherwise, they’d work harder to keep it all from happening again.

And again.

And again.

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