Remember

2010-11-11

in Bombs and rockets, Canada, Politics, Security

Perhaps we honour the war dead better by declining to participate in nationalistic and militaristic state-sanctioned displays. Wars always involve at least some moral ambiguity; even if the cause for going to war was unambiguously just, innocents end up being victims during virtually all wars. Perhaps if we had really learned from the massive and numerous tragedies of the 20th century, we will feel more included to a solemn recognition of all those who have suffered from war, rather than a patriotic salute to those who participated in wars (willingly or not, justly or unjustly) while they happened to be wearing our flag (or the British ones we fought under before).

Governments have an interest in spreading the general belief that someone who takes up arms for their country, regardless of the cause, is making an honourable sacrifice and worthy of respect. Those reflexes help to keep a state alive across the centuries, by maintaining an ability to rally to their own defence when necessary. Countless people who carried that belief were sent out of the many trenches of the 20th century, straight at the barrels of the machine guns of those conflicts. Much of that was senseless, or served dubious ends. At best, war is a tragic undertaking, necessary when someone wants to impose the intolerable upon us. When collectively contemplating war, perhaps it would serve human ends most if we collectively accepted that war is almost the worst among all things, and should only be undertaken to eliminate a still-greater evil.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. November 12, 2010 at 9:25 am

Governments have an interest in spreading the general belief that someone who takes up arms for their country, regardless of the cause, is making an honourable sacrifice and worthy of respect

dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

R.K. November 12, 2010 at 9:31 am

“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

Milan November 12, 2010 at 9:48 am

I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the War Memorial beside Parliament Hill yesterday. It was actually more militaristic and nationalistic than I expected it to be (I did not attend in previous years). It involved a lot of people marching around in uniform while rather jaunty military songs were played. The ceremony was punctuated by cannon fire, and there was an extremely loud, low overflight by four CF-18 fighter jets.

The worst part was right at the end. Just about the final group in the procession that walked past the memorial was a group of sea cadets who looked to be about twelve years old. It wasn’t at all difficult to imagine them as terrified conscripts in any of history’s industrialized wars: from the American Revolution to the first world war and the Pacific island hopping during WWII.

Tristan November 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

I listened to that ceremony on the CBC. I had similar feelings about how militaristic, nationalistic the ceremony was. It made me quite sad – I had thought there was still some space in the mainstream Canadian military imaginary for the memory of the horror of war, rather than its glorification.

At some point I heard the line “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – but I don’t think it was uttered as part of Owen’s poem. Did you hear that? What was the context?

. November 12, 2010 at 11:38 am

The Langemark cemetery is the final resting place of 44,294 German soldiers. More than half of them are buried in one mass grave, the Kameraden Grab, their names etched on large dark plaques running alongside the site.

[Andre de Bruin, a World War I guide and founder of Over The Top Tours] points to rows of gravestones that lie flat on ground, explaining: “Belgium imposed very strict restrictions on German memorials. Headstones were not allowed to stand, not like those of the Commonwealth soldiers and there were many other rules that applied only to Germans.”

There were hundreds of burial sites of German soldiers after 1918 but in the 1950s, Belgium ordered that the bodies be regrouped in no more than four sites, of which Langemark is one.

“It was probably done out of hatred for what happened, especially during World War II when Belgium was occupied. They even forbade the use of crosses above the headstones,” de Bruin said.

Milan November 12, 2010 at 11:40 am

I didn’t really hear anything except for music, cannons, and jets. I was standing on the hill near the East Block of Parliament. From there, you couldn’t really hear or see the speakers, though they were shown on a big screen.

. November 12, 2010 at 4:07 pm

On War
November 11, 2010

It’s Remembrance Day. I feel compelled to write something. The spirit of the day suggests that sorrowful gratitude is most appropriate. A sad, quiet “thank you” to those who have fought and in too many cases, died in defence of the nebulous concept of my “freedom”. I should also be wearing a poppy. But I’m not.

Yesterday I was driving behind a car with that bumper sticker that says “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.”

I know virtually nothing of armed conflict or global politics. I don’t have family members in the armed forces and I can’t really understand what it feels like to lose someone you love in a distant, violent battle, or look into the eyes of a person you once knew irrevocably changed the acts of war. In the past, I’ve made insensitive statements about soldiers dying for nothing. That’s not fair. Who am I to tell anyone else what is and isn’t worth dying for?

. November 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm

HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945

Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning
(Guest Lecture by Jay Winters)

As a result of World War I, Europe had a different understanding of war in the twentieth century than the United States. One of the most important ways in which the First World War was experienced on the continent and in Britain was through commemoration. By means of both mass-media technologies and older memorial forms, sites of memory offered opportunities for personal as well as political reconciliation with the unprecedented consequences of the war. The influence of these sites is still felt today, in a united Europe, as the importance of armies has diminished in favor of social welfare programs.

oleh November 16, 2010 at 1:18 pm

“Perhaps if we had really learned from the massive and numerous tragedies of the 20th century, we will feel more included to a solemn recognition of all those who have suffered from war, rather than a patriotic salute to those who participated in wars ”

Good suggestion. If we extend Remembrance Day to all those who have suffered from war as opposed to those who fought in uniform in war, this would give us a broader perspective. Quite often in the 20th century and now the victims of war are more civilian, than in uniform. Also the disruption can extend to the way people’s lives are effected. Civilian refugees from wars often outnumber combatants.

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