Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day. Nov. 11, 2010

Today, Moncton observed the time and the day Geramny surrendered in 1918 - the 11th hour of the eleventh day of the 11th month. The arena was filled to its 4000 seat capacity with another thousand of so veterans, soldiers, cadets, boy scouts, girl guides and brownies standing rigidly at ease for the full hour.

Our soldiers had given their lives for Canadian freedom, we were told, in two world wars, Korea, and Afghanistan. That message was reinforced by by the several clergymen (Christians only) who implied that God looks on all this with pride. The crowd  in attendance was obviously moved. Perhaps that was because there was so much that wasn't mentioned.

The millions of civilians who died were not mentioned. But all four of those wars have been notable more for the deaths of innocent civilians, babies to elderly, than of soldiers. That's the nature of modern war.

It also skipped some wars - the French invasion, the British invasion, the two American invasion, the Sudan war, and the Boer war. Maybe that's because the only Canadians who died in two of them were doing it were batuve peoples trying to protect their freedom. As for the two American invasions in which thousands of Canadians did die to protect their freedom - well - they couldn't have mentioned that without feeling awkward about the American flag being up with the leaders in the parade.

In fact, the freedom of the people who live in Canada has been threatened only in four wars -the French invasion, the British invasion, and the two American invasions. There was never a danger of a Boer, German, French or Japanese invasion of North America. (That's why Roosevelt had to wait for Pearl Harbour before he could get support for a war.)

Nor did most of our soldiers join up to defend freedom. I knew many of them - my father, my uncle, the older boys in my father's scout troop, neighbours, the 16 year old who left school when we were in grade four and often came to play with me because he was retarded. He stole his brother's draft papers (He was a very big kid), and  joined the Black Watch. Six months later, he was lying face down in the mud of Germany just over the Dutch border, sobbing in terror. Then he jumped up, screaming, and a machine gun cut him in half."Hell," said our neighbour who joined with him, "He was only a kid. Sixteen. "Funny thing. When he jumped up, he was screaming for his mother."

Check the statistics for the two world wars. There was a depression on in both cases. Men joined up to feed their families. Kids joined up for adventure, and jobs. Once the war factories opened up,voluntary enlistment plummetted, and we had to go to the draft.

But the ceremony ignored all that. In the end, it remembered by glorifying deaths that should have been grieved,  and by mythologizing the whole business of war. And the church was there to stir it well with God's blessing.

I watched my son, an army cadet, march by behind the Canadian, American, and British flags to the beat of a drum. This wasn't about remembering the tragedies of the past. It was about preparing us to look to glory in the tragedies yet to come..

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