After reading my friend Michael’s post on Remembrance Day, I find myself rethinking the event. I can think of three different potentially valid understandings of its purpose:
- The day as a formalized period of mourning for the specific people who died in the wars commemorated.
- A day meant to serve as recognition of the fundamental badness of war in general
- A day meant to encourage contemplation of the specific conflicts being commemorated.
The first and second are clearly somewhat contradictory. You can get around that by either saying that war in general is bad, but these ones were noble and important or that waging war is honourable if done defensively, and all of these conflicts were defensive. Another way out is to say that the actions of those who died, specifically, were honourable, regardless of whether the broader endeavour in which they were engaged was.
The most easily justifiable position is to avoid the automatic taking of a moral stance – in response to the occasion – but rather use the chance to reflect on the specifics of the conflicts themselves: how they arose, how they progressed, what they resulted in, and what the importance of all of that is now. Such an approach has the virtue of independence of thought, but probably rather misses the point of a commemorative ceremony of the sort that Remembrance Day is meant to be.
Regardless of the conclusions you reach, the balance you end up contemplating is one between large-scale strategies and small-scale sacrifices. Whether it’s Canadians being blown up by roadside bombs while trying to aid negotiations between the central government and provincial warlords in Afghanistan today or Canadians dying to test the German defences in Dieppe in 1942, such examples force us to think hard about the aims of our foreign policy, and the purposes for which armed force should be employed in the world.