Lest we… what?

Well, that was… kinda sad. A few minutes ago the receptionist made an announcement about… something. I caught the words “Remembrance Day” and “starting”. Extrapolation (since it was about 10:58am): Remembrance Day moments of silence, coming up.

Sure enough, a couple minutes later, something… else, started up over the PA system. It sounded like a very bad recording off of an LP of a “dramatized” reading of In Flanders’ Fields.

And so we had our couple of minutes. I can still hear bagpipes coming from somewhere. I suspect the TV in the cafeteria, since it’s always tuned to the news. During our couple of minutes, I could still hear people talking (even laughing), and typing, etc. Granted, it also occurred to me that within about a 20 foot radius of where I’m sitting, I can count at least four people who are not “native” Canadians. Two guys in my area are Russian. Two women in Finance are Romanian. The language list they publish every month has at least 18 languages on it.

For some people, growing up, their experiences on November 11ths would have been rather different, if they “celebrated” them at all. Some of these people (and their families, and friends, and countrymen…) weren’t on “our side”. Hell, my biological family is/was German. They might not have been Good Guys, either. Every year I remember the story one of the girls in high school told about going to the war memorial with the Air Cadets, and being asked by a vet there if her family served. They had. Under the Third Reich. He didn’t have a lot to say after she told him that.

From my end of things, I freely admit that I don’t get it. I mean, I’m intelligent, I’m sympathetic, I’m fond of history. I know what happened. I know how people work. But my family is Mennonite. Theirs is a history of pacificism and agriculture. Based on those two things they are exempt from military service. Yes, Mennonites go into war zones sometimes (a friend of my parents’ died in Iraq a couple of years ago), but not with guns in hand.

Plus, like I said, I get people. We are doomed to repeat history over and over and over. Open a newspaper. People can wear all the poppies they want. We’re not getting any better. I don’t buy poppies. Not out of disrespect. Not out of any desire to not support veterans. Rather, I do it out of my own kind of respect. I know what happened. I know what people sacrificed. And I acknowledge that I do not, and cannot, ever understand that. So I don’t pretend to. I also refuse to cheapen their sacrifices (whether or not I agree with the circumstances under which they were made), by pretending we ever evolve away from blowing the fuck out of each other. In church years ago, they gave us buttons to wear instead of poppies, since poppies reflect remembrance of war, which is not something Mennonites remember in that context. The buttons were red with white characters and said something like, “To remember is to work for peace”. I haven’t been able to find it for years. I’d wear it if I could.

I don’t think the washed-out efforts typically made these days cut it. It’s like someone trying to paint a picture from details of a scene the person received fourth-hand. Incomprehensible music and voices over a PA system? Please. That is disrespectful. That isn’t teaching anyone anything. You want to educate and make people get it? Fuck political correctness and “sensitive” and “correct” educational practises. Field trips to Auschwitz and Holocaust museums. Medical records of battle injuries. What is life like for someone who goes home with no limbs and half a face? What is life like for someone whose body looks whole but whose lungs have been seared into nothingness by gas? What does boiled shoe leather taste like, and how does it feel feeding it to your starving children? What is life like for someone whose husband/brother/sons/daughters/mothers/sisters aren’t coming home, and there are still children to raise and jobs to do and food that needs to be put on the table. I stood at Dachau. I never felt like that in any classroom.

My generation knows nothing about war. We know nothing about deprivation. Previous generations sacrificed to give us that luxury. And as a result, we are lazy, spoiled, self-centred, and clueless. I bet they never saw that coming. That said, we are only human. We’re not different from any humans who came before. Had we gone through it, we’d be the same as our grandparents. Had they lived in peace and prosperity, they’d have grown up to be us.

We can focus on Lest We Forget all we want. Only problem is, human memory is not designed for Remembering, so it’s gonna take something else.

2 Replies to “Lest we… what?”

  1. By a strange sort of accident, my grandfathers fought on opposite sides in WWII. Neither wanted to be a soldier, but they did their duty anyway because it was just what you did.

    So I always try to focus on remembering the kind of extreme shit that can happen to nice normal people when war suddenly falls into their nice normal lives, and how war distorts one’s worldview, and how glad I am that my grandparents’ generation did it so I haven’t had to.

  2. We can also say “thank you” when we see a survivor in the flesh. We may think it’s quaint, or trite, but they are of an older and different generation – where that word still has meaning. And it should be “thank you” and not “thanks” – give it dignity and MEAN it. And when you do, take a minute to ponder the watery acknowledgement and gratitude in their eyes. A simple “thank you” for a complicated and messy sacrifice of soul. Then ponder trying it on someone else.

    After my Pappy died, we received his war discharge papers. He was a common labourer who was illiterate. He went from working in a coal mine in Scotland, to dredging in ditches and dirty boats. He emigrated to Canada right after the way, and my Grannie went ahead of him, with a 2-year old child and a baby on the way. By herself. Across the ocean. And they deposited her in Deep frickin’ River, ON.

    Thank you.

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