Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why We Remember

November 11th is Remembrance Day and despite all the publicity and plastic poppies being sold on every street corner, it is my hope that the point of the day is not lost on people. It's not just a day off from work for federal employees and it's not the day that veterans take out their medals to shine them. November 11th at its origin marked the end of the first world war, the first conflict of its kind which shocked the modern world. It was the 11th day, the 11th month and the 11th hour where four years of war, famine, disease and grief finally ended.

This is significant, but it's so far removed from the current reality that this is why I fear the message is getting lost. While teachers often include World War I in their curriculum, it's not enough to throw names, dates, numbers and unpronounceable European countries at them. They should emphasize the importance of such a large conflict to a so-called civilized world and how it started from the war that would end at Christmas to the war that lasted 4 grueling years.

People are generally more aware of the Second World War, the 'Nazi war' as most people know it. There is something about the mystique of the Hitler regime and the horrors of its cleansing regime which stun and stimulate the mind. But the First World War, while it lacks the glamour associated with the Second, was stunning because of its nature. It is a demonstration of how pride, politics, past bad blood and basic human greed can push humanity to the brink; and it very nearly did.

And that's another thing that people should not forget: how close we came to destroying everything we created over the years by tearing each other apart with guns and tanks. How close we came to wiping out the human race in the name of national pride, territorial gain and racist notions of the right of certain races to rule. And how we nearly destroyed an entire generation which drowned in muddy fields or were killed by gunfire in trenches.

Today's wars are mired in politics and industrial interests, but Remembrance Day is not about those things. It's about remembering what war is and how we should do everything in our power to prevent it. That's the best way to honour our veterans and freedom.

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