Why they’re worth remembering
At the end of the day, Remembrance Day isn’t about poppies, wreaths, the Royal Canadian Legion, or granite cenotaphs.
These, of course, are all important symbols of our desire to remember but they aren’t what Remembrance Day is really for.
It’s for young men and women barely out of their teenage years, who were and still are willing to give up their lives so the rest of us could and can grow into adulthood without having to do the same.
Nearly all the young people who offered themselves up to be killed and maimed in World War I have grown old and passed on. Those who were young during World War II and the Korean conflict are now themselves approaching their final years.
Soon, the only military veterans left alive in Canada will be those who served, not in wars against other nations, but as either peacekeepers or potential peacekeepers.
That’s a role that ought to be honoured. But unfortunately, Canada’s peacekeepers receive too little honour and an excessive degree of criticism.
That’s understandable, given the appalling behaviour of some of our peacekeepers in Somalia a few years ago. The attempts by senior defence staff and federal government officials to cover up minimize their atrocities hasn’t helped their reputations either.
But even as you read this, members of the Canadian military are still putting their lives on the line for peace and the well-being of others.
They include members of Canadian bomb disposal units who are defusing mines and enduring abuse from hostile populations in the former Yugoslavia, and small groups of vulnerable peacekeepers in many other countries.
Most of these people especially in the lower ranks are poorly paid, badly equipped, and under-appreciated at home. Some have even died on active service, with little attention from the national media.
These people too, deserve to be acknowledged on Remembrance Day, because they too have made the same sacrifice their fathers and grandfathers made in our century’s two world wars.
That, by the way, is another reason for preserving Remembrance Day because it reminds the young that there’s honour in seeking a vocation where you might be asked to sacrifice your life. That message won’t get through, however, unless those other young men, the ones who gave up everything in 1914 and 1945, are also given their due.
Remembrance Day came and went this week in Canada much as it has for generations now. Let it come and go for generations to come because it’s one of only a few institutions left to us that connects us to our nation’s past.
It’s also one of the few institutions left to remind us that sacrifice for the love of others is an honourable way to live. JB