by David Herman
On November 11, my wife and I walked up to the Cenotaph in front of the old North Grenville High School. We were impressed with the size of the parade, as well as the number of people who lined the street and the lawn of the old school. As the service of remembering progressed, it seemed to me that too many of the audience were not really paying attention to the service, but were “catching up” with family or friends; talking and laughing. Rightly or wrongly, I bit my tongue and did not speak to the closest of the offenders. I felt if I was being distracted by these people, and I spoke to them, it could quickly distract many more people. The surprising thing for me is that some of the worst offenders were people who should have known better, my age or older, and some in uniform.
I spoke to my son last week and, although he is living on his own in St. Johns as he is pursuing his PhD, he told us that, of course, he was going to the service there and, in fact, he was going to take a friend of his from Germany with him. As children ourselves, we always attended the November 11 service, and when we had children, we felt it important to take them and tell them the importance of remembering the sacrifice that men and women from many countries made in defense of our freedom and democracy.
Today, I was driving in to the Heart Institute for my bi-annual MRI and I had my radio tuned to Ontario Today with Rita Celli, and they were asking callers to share their thoughts on Remembrance Day. One caller stated that she has drifted away from the service, or even taking a quiet moment herself to remember, because she objected to the religious aspects of the service.
Rita’s guest said that they (in Ottawa) try not to alienate people, so they only have a prayer at the beginning and end of the service, and they make a point to tell people that, if the prayers are not what they believe in, or for some reason are offended by them, that the person should just quietly think of the fallen men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice so that they have the freedom to follow their own beliefs.
Another caller spoke to a point that I had been thinking of for a while now. This caller’s mother lived through WWII in Germany with her mother, and she said she could not go to, or listen to, the Remembrance Day service, because of her memory of the war: being terrified of the Allied soldiers and planes that brought destruction to her country. I am guessing that she has not looked at the bigger picture, that civilians on both sides of a war lived through that hell. I feel that the act of remembrance, for me at least, is for all soldiers, regardless of who they fought for, because the vast majority of them were good men and women who followed their leaders, rightly or wrongly, in the hopes of a better world when it was all over.
I have heard that the best way to fight a war is to have the leaders get into a ring or on a field, unarmed, and duke it out. I think that might give rise to sober second thought before declaring war. It would not involve the innocent civilians who, for the most part, would rather stay home with their families than leave them behind and perhaps never return.
I also take exception to the term: Celebration. Remembrance Day is not a “celebration”, except perhaps to celebrate the end of the war, and that should have been at the end of the war, and from then on “Remember” and wonder about all the things that might have been, if those brave people had lived full lives. Remembrance Day is just that, a day when we bow our heads and remember the brave men and women who left their families, homes, and loved ones to fight for an idea. It is not a celebration of war or killing, but an act of remembering because, as they say, if we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat the errors of the past.
Most of the world today lives in freedom, but not all of it, and I worry that, as the ranks of the veterans are becoming fewer every year, people who have not lived through a war, or lived with people who have lived through a war, may stop remembering that we are bound to repeat the mistakes that have cost so many lives in the past. With the art of war advancing as it has, another world war may really be the war that ends all wars, because it will be the end of humans on the beautiful rock we call earth.