Modern remembrance is an insult

No on cares about Remembrance Day anymore. It has faded from public relevance. Questions about the day are more likely to result in jokes about Star Wars and the tragic destruction of the planet Alderaan, Princess Leia's homeworld. Some students we spoke to immediately brought up the Royal Canadian Legion, the sponsor of the Candian Poppy campaign, but the conversation always ended up on imaginings about cheap beer with grizzled storm-troopers.

2009 marked the passing of the last known British WWI survivor, Harry Patch, at the age of 111. He was one of the last of  37 million deaths worldwide. He described Remembrance Day as little more than “show business.” Patch was an apprentice plumber when the war broke out. He was conscripted, and in May 1917, he marked his 19th birthday in the trenches of Reims. He was a machine gunner at the Third Battle of Ypres and then was injured by German shrapnel in September of that same year. While he may be regarded as the final symbolic soldier passing into memory, it should be noted that he did not participate in November 11th rituals; he did not speak about the war until he was 100 years old. Instead he honored September 22, when he lost his three closest friends and his war ended.

According to Jonathon Bartley of Ekklesia, a theological think-tank: "He also said that we should remember those on 'both sides of the line' and in his final years he visited war cemeteries, placing a wreath of poppies on one of the German graves." Patch was a shy critic of the way that Remembrance Day has been framed, and as one of the last survivors, his opinion must be taken seriously. His compassion for all the victims, even his enemies, is remarkable, and has a political edge that resonates with our current Canadian situation. We are a country at war, and Remembrance Day places a glorified mantle of valor on a history of shame, normalizing our failure to negotiate peace. The honoring of fallen soldiers is a red herring, a distraction from the gruesome realities of war. From Patch's perspective, it fails to address the fact that many of those young soldiers died in vain. The sterile ritual does little to counteract the war effort that perpetuates the cycles of violence.

Ekklesia released a 38 page report on the status of Remembrance Day, criticizing its focus and calling for more emphasis to be placed on the often overlooked aspects of the War: The immense environmental impact, the commercialization of poppies, and the loss of animal life. Expressions like this are ways for us to reinvent our impressions of war and to rephrase its meaning according to updated values. While Prince George and Camilla will be visiting CFB Petawawa in Ontario to honor members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons who died in Afghanistan, we should consider the stale formality of this act; it is just another plastic poppy on a shallow grave. Instead of administering yet another disingenuous condolence that amounts to nothing but implied consent for the war effort, the Royal family should take this opportunity to renew an international commitment to peace.

Remembering the “War to End All Wars” by two minutes of silence is not an act of honoring fallen heroes. In its current incarnation, it is a faulty ommission of dialogue from the necessary business of stopping the killing all together. It manufactures consent and public acceptance. Two minutes of silence for remembering the tragic pawns in the most horrific game in history is an insult to the memory of all those who have fought and died. Those two minutes would be better spent encouraging the whole world to scream at the top of their lungs: “Never Again!”

//Kevin Murray

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