War, Remembrance and Shame

Across Ottawa today flags were lowered in respect of those who sacrificed their lives in the service of the military through the conflicts Canada has participated in, and the city joined the national celebration of these memories of bravery and tragedy. Our national day of remembrance has been an occassion for a more acutely felt shared sadness and pride these last five years, with Canadian soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan. As our combat mission in this most recent war comes to a close in 2011, our minds will turn more and more to reflection on the cause and reason for our sacrifices, and what our soldiers have won with their sacrifice.

CTV news is reporting that the laying of two wreaths of white poppies at the National War Memorial today was met with outrage, with some saying it is a “desecration.” Such an incongruent reaction to the respectful presentation of a symbol of peace on a day when we commemorate the sacrifices of those who we say fought to restore peace makes me wonder if people have become too small-minded to truly understand the meaning of remembrance. When all are admonishing “lest we forget,” I feel more and more like we’ve already forgotten.

I come from a family that maybe hasn’t been as touched by war as some. My grandfather was a chef in the Air Force during the Second World War. My grandmother is a Dutch woman, and her family once helped hide Jews from German patrols. They met during the war, and as a child I grew up with stories of what it was like in the midst of that epic conflict. I can honestly say my love for stories comes from the many I heard my grandparents share.

Neither fought in the war, but both were shaped by it in one way or another. Both shared the belief that the war was a necessary evil, because of that the Allies fought to forestall, and because there was no way to stop the spread of the German forces, bent on conquest, without facing them with force of arms. Peace could only come by fighting evil, but peace was definitely the objective.

The First World War was to be “the war to end all war,” but fell far short of that lofty goal. The intention in fighting both Great Wars, however, was always solidly couched in terms of bringing an end to violence and the threat of violence, so that the world would not have to know such bloody conflict again. The soldiers fighting in those wars fought in the hope that their children, or their children’s children, would not have to fight and die as they did. They fought with hopes for peace, and on November 11th we remember the sacrifices they have made to try and bring peace to the world.

How, then, can anyone say that displaying a white poppy to symbolize this peace that they fought and died to install and defend is a desecration of their memory?

One could debate whether there can be peace without war, but few could argue that there can be a point to war if it isn’t to bring peace. Whether you believe this current war is a just war, or whether you believe that there can be any good reason to have a war in the first place, I think you’d have to be pretty weak minded to believe that soldiers fight because they think war is a good thing. Soldiers fight because they believe that the cause they are fighting for is just. They fight because they hope their efforts will bring an end to the fighting.

I am sickened by people who express the superficial attitude that support for the troops means not saying anything negative about the war, or war itself. The arrogance of statements like “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them,” and the childish wilfull ignorance of immediately proclaiming someone a hippy, a traitor, or a coward for saying they don’t believe in the cause our troops are fighting for belies a hawkishness in our society that I think is more disrespectful to those who are risking their lives than anything else. I’ve said before and I will say again that I think the greatest sign of respect a person can show the troops is to question, to debate and to think to make sure that the cause for which they are risking their lives is a just and important cause, instead of granting it false justice and value by simply accepting it blindly and without thought.

I observed my moment of silence today. The person I was on the phone with obliged to call me back and continue the conversation after the two minutes of silence. I stopped and thought quietly after the memory or my grandfather, the stories he had shared, and what I could imagine our fallen troops experienced then and now. So did the folks who laid the white poppy wreaths at the Memorial. Hopefully, so did you. We all demonstrated our respect for those who have fallen, and we all stood in support of the troops in our own way.

Those who call the white poppies a desecration should be ashamed. The bystander who removed the wreaths after the memorial should feel doubly ashamed. What is more a more appropriate and natural symbol for the respect we have for our troops, past and present, than a symbol representing the peace that they gave their lives for and continue to fight to give us? Don’t you want an end to the bloodshed? Don’t you want war to end? Don’t you want our troops to come home safe? Maybe they don’t feel shame, but I feel ashamed for them and disgusted by their ignorance.

If you are offended by a symbol of peace, and instead want to celebrate war without peace, I invite you to stand in front of our troops and express that. Commemorating war and loss without wishing for peace is exactly the failure to support our troops you so arrogantly sneer at.

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1 comment so far

[…] for, and the pettiness is something that disgusts me. But, I’ve written about that before, last year in fact, and I’m not going to get into that specific complaint again now. I was on the phone at work […]

As Poppies Blow |
November 11th, 2011 at 5:50 pm

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