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Remembrance Day Reflections.

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Remembrance Day.

Though a lot of us probably don’t support the actual combat that takes place in the wars that have seen our family members, friends, and fellow countrymen & women fight in, I think we can all agree that we have nothing but the utmost respect for those who fought and either survived or didn’t, so that we could maintain our freedom. Whether you agree or disagree with the rationale of which the governments have deployed their soldiers for, it is those soldiers who deserve all the praise they get for putting their lives on the line for us.

I went to a local Remembrance Day ceremony in Kelowna City Park this year. I can’t remember who the quote was from, but one of the speakers read a quote saying, “War is one of man’s least creative ways devised of resolving conflict”. And that’s completely true. Unfortunately, whether it’s a dispute on government, religion, land claim, or whatever else, ultimately if it can’t be resolved diplomatically, we humans just decide to shoot or blow the other guys up to either get our way, or simply defend ourselves from having the same thing happen to us.

And even that brings a whole other element into play: who’s right? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? The ceremony featured a lot of prayers, which obviously ties in a religious angle to war. Whether we thank God for helping our soldiers survive, for giving them courage, ask His blessing as they ship out and enter the battlefield, ask Him to thwart our enemies, ask Him for peace, or whatever else we choose to pray for in terms of war, you do have to consider that the “bad guys” are probably doing the exact same thing, and feel very justified in their stance on the situation; hence the decision to fight for their side as well. Democracy seems correct (to us in our culture at least), but to some it is a very foreign, perhaps evil, concept, worth fighting against as to not have it imposed upon them.

Along the way I have been privileged to meet some veterans and hear their stories. One of the most interesting stories I’ve heard was the one from a neighbour I had some years ago who was actually a soldier in the German army. You know, the “bad guys”. He’s now got a nice little condo, been married for 60 years, a family, and participates actively in Strata rule enforcement. He’s a regular guy, and a nice one at that. But once upon a time, anybody on this side of the planet would have recognized him as evil. And of course, this isn’t to condone any of the actions that Hitler and the German army instigated, but this was a guy that was considered every bit as honourable to his fellow countrymen as our soldiers are to us. To hear him describe returning home to the pile of rubble that used to be his dwelling, and hear that side of the story made him a lot more mortal and a lot less villainous. But I think that’s the beauty of today, the day of digital media and endless information sharing; it used to be that only the civilizations that won wars dictated how history was written. Now we really have the opportunity to hear ALL sides, and decide for ourselves what’s justified, what’s worth fighting for, and what maybe needs a little further examination before risking human life. I also have a friend who I played college hockey with that recently served with the US Army in Iraq. While many oppose(d) the Iraq war, when you know someone in it, it makes you want that mission to be completed, if only for your friend to come home safe.

Prime Minister Harper announced today that Canadian soldiers would be staying in Afghanistan until 2014, but that after 2011 their mission would be exclusively non-combat, and only to train domestic forces. As much as I (and most of us) would like all our troops home immediately and out of danger, at least there is a commitment to ending the combat. A quote from the PM said,

We do want to make sure that as we leave, what we leave behind is a situation where the sacrifices Canadians have made — and they have made a lot of sacrifices there — that those sacrifices are appropriately honoured and we leave something of lasting benefit,”

And I think in the end, that’s what it has to be all about: recognizing the efforts of those who have fought, and making sure those sacrifices were not in vain. I may not “Remember” it all year ‘round, but I am truly thankful to have had my freedom defended and fought for by so many brave people that never met me; it’s a very humbling notion to see old people marching in Remembrance Day parades, know what they did, and know that a sliver of it was in fact for me (divided equally amongst all of us of course), despite that when they were on the battlefield they’d never even heard of me, and that I’ll probably never even speak to them personally.

photo by Daniel Hayduk

And because of this, for at least one day in a year, I actually, really, think about the idea of freedom. The notion that we can truly choose to do pretty well whatever we want to do, pursue, or stand for in our lives. Of course, you naturally want to point to all the good and noble things you have or you’re going to do with your life; but really, people have every bit as much of a right to become a complete jackass, and do some appalling, atrocious, or possibly just non-eventful and anti-climatic things with their remaining existence. I think that’s the dangerous part of freedom, and of fighting for and earning it, so it can be given to others. While many will indeed do remarkable and noteworthy things with their freedom that was paid for by human sacrifice, many will either do a lot of not-so-great things, and many may just do nothing at all (which may be worse in the end). I think the latter two concepts seem to cheapen that ultimate sacrifice that was made, which is sad, but at the same time, and unavoidable bi-product of an open-ended gift. While I admittedly probably don’t make the best of my freedom, I hope there’s been at least a glimmer here and/or there that wouldn’t make a veteran upset if I told him or her what I had been doing with myself.

Anyone who tunes into Coach’s Corner during Hockey Night in Canada on CBC knows that Don Cherry is a huge  supporter of our country’s veterans, and he actually had a decent quote after showing a video montage and appearing from a military cemetary for British and Canadian soldiers with their crosses lined row on row.  He said while pointing to the memorials, “These people gave their lives, the least you can do is buy a poppy.” 

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