November 11. The day set apart to honour those who fell on the field of battle. Pin on a poppy. Post something on your social media about heroes laying down their lives. Listen to a national anthem, salute a flag, stand for a minute in silence.
What are you honouring? Whom are you honouring? What did they do?
We stand for the sixteen-year-old who longed for excitement and distinction, and said he was eighteen. He made it through training, shipped across a dangerous sea, lived four weeks on foreign soil, laughed and joked to hide the fear, met friends and made promises, and was obliterated by a screaming shell, as if his personality, his soul, his life, were worth nothing.
We bow our heads for the man who was called upon by his country and turned to look at all he could lose. A wife, left to manage the household alone. Four children, destined to grow up without a father. A mother and father, bereaved of their son. Then he looked across the waters to a land where wives fought to keep their children’s body and soul together, where little ones hid in dark rooms in mortal fear, where men chose between evil and death, where old folks were thrown out as worthless obstacles. And he chose to make a difference, despite the cost.
We pin a poppy for the Red Cross nurse, haunted by the dying words she caught, by the agonized faces of terrified men, by the horrific destruction of mind and limb she can never efface from her mind.
We salute a flag that flew above scenes of horror and scenes of deliverance, places of shame and places of honour, moments of grief and moments of joy—a flag that, although flawed, was recognized as a friend.
We listen to an anthem that was written long ago, listened to by thousands of different men—janitors, carpenters, convicts, sailors, painters, ushers, druggists, farmers, pianists, ministers. An anthem that stirred hearts and expressed unspoken feelings. An anthem that gathered under it men and women of different races, different pasts, different languages, different countries, different beliefs, different regions, but one land: Canada.
And we share words so futile and empty in light of the great sacrifices they wish to honour. Words full of wild tears and broken cries and endless questioning. Words which struggle to show the price they cost. Words attempting to cover the maiming, the destruction, the hunger, the mental horror that the war demanded of humanity. Words striving to show the light and darkness intertwined in history—the courage, love, selflessness standing out in such sharp, poignant beauty against the cruelty, hatred, evilness.
I have spoken before in honour of the soldiers and what they fought for.
But today, I grieve the forgetfulness of the world.
We do not minimize the horror of our story; we do not gild it with patriotism and heroics; but we soberly take note of the lessons we can draw from it and we give thanks for the good that was found. We cannot say, Never Again, for war will always be. But we can say, Lest We Forget, for when we do, we will fall again.
Do not forget. Do not grow complacent. Remember.
Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.Winston Churchill