It is Remembrance Day this Saturday. This day has been held to remember the veterans of two very specific wars which happened a very long time ago. My cousins post family photos on Facebook of my grandparents and their two eldest sons all in uniform from the second of the two wars we are expected to remember.
My Grandpa fought in both wars. He used to tell funny stories of life in the trenches during WW1. He took the pain, degradation and misery of those days and turned it into humour, dwelling on small events, practical jokes played on fellow soldiers, the smells, the messes, the crowding. But the big stories, the actual fighting and suffering, he didn’t tell nor wish to recall. Nor did he ever talk about how it felt when his eldest son, the golden child, Bruce (the one my brother was named after) was killed stupidly just before WW2 ended.
“The War to End All Wars,” as they called, it was only the first of those two, and the second ended generations ago now. Yet still, we have wars currently in progress and new wars erupting. Why is war still a thing? Can we not learn from the pain of the past? How can we teach children that violence is not a way to resolve conflict when governments wage war?
Perhaps we need to go farther than simple remembrance, which so often equals glorification. While I fully agree that veterans of wars should be supported by the governments they sacrificed everything for, ‘heroes’ of wars are not heroes. For the most part, they are children, cannon fodder, pawns on the chessboard in the game of dominance between nations. No one can be a hero in modern war. Every soldier has committed atrocities, and are shamed and harmed by their own memories. They suffer not only their own pain, but the suffering they themselves have, under orders, inflicted on the innocent. Trauma. PTSD. Passed down through the generations, Daddy broke in the war, breaks his kids. Now, Mommy gets to break in the war, too. Progress. Yay feminism!
Rather, we should forget war. Forget that it exists. Take it off the table as an option. Why is war still acceptable? War is the worst thing that can possibly happen in this world, it is the most economically, environmentally and psychologically devastating thing that can be done–something this beleaguered planet can absolutely no longer afford–and yet it is still sanctioned and elevated in our fond remembrance of heroes past. Those heroes would rather be forgotten, I think, if forgetting them meant forgetting war and letting it slide farther into the past where such things belong.
We can’t forget, though, can we? It’s happening now. Right now, bombs are incinerating the homes of families. Children are being punished for the crime of existing in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s happening in Ukraine, in Gaza, and in many small places where war is chronic, so much the norm that we don’t think of them and aren’t even certain where they all are.
What would my uncle Bruce say, if he were alive to ask? Would he think his death was a glorious sacrifice, or a stupid waste of his potential, the murder of his children and grandchildren? Would he agree that war is a glorious struggle between nations and that the winner should rightfully write the history books? Would he believe in enemies, Right vs Wrong? I will never know, and that alone seems like an answer to me.
When we remember, let it be with shame and repentance, not with pride and exaltation. We should feel compassion for the soldiers, for I doubt they remember their own deeds with pride. Support them, and help them heal their suffering. But don’t affirm their heroism or the glories of war.
White poppies stand for ‘never again.’ It is the remembrance of war without its justification. If we must wear poppies, let us wear the white one for ending all war, not the blood red ones for the glory and remembrance of heroes. If you want a white poppy, they are being given out at the Co-op till next to the red ones. Remembering alone is not enough. Whatever your personal feeling on Remembrance Day, may this day bring you blessing and peace.
That’s what I think. What do you think? Email me at email@example.com