Remembering

PoppiesI just realized that it’s been an entire month since I last wrote on my blog. It hasn’t been that I haven’t had anything to say – that’s never really been a problem for me – but with home renos on the go, I haven’t had the time. I’m very sure you don’t want to hear about my cupboard cleaning extravaganza and twice daily moppings of my floor. Anyway, it struck me when I realized that my last post was October the 11th, that tomorrow is Remembrance Day. What better time, though, to come back and say something than on Remembrance Day?

I’ve been horribly remiss this year. I haven’t even bought a poppy. So I’m hoping I can redeem myself through a few words. Since the weather will be nice tomorrow, I may even take the kids to the ceremonies here in Ottawa which are always beautiful and heartbreakingly solemn at the same time. I think the thing that strikes me the most at the ceremonies are the dwindling numbers of veterans. Those who fought in WWII and are still alive are now in their late 80’s, most of them. It becomes increasingly difficult for them to attend. To see them marching slowly toward the cenotaph, the pain of memories from long ago in their eyes, brings so many emotions to the surface. Without them there it will be…different.

I think it is a day that is going to become more and more difficult to mark as time passes. My parents’ generation lived through the war. Some of their parents fought in it. To them it was real. My generation had the advantage of hearing the tales of war first hand, from survivors. We could see their emotion, feel their fear, and rejoice in their victory. To us it was history, but recent history. But for my children, it will be wars of last century, fought by people who are gone or almost all gone. I wonder then, how we can instill in the next generation the same sense of respect that was and is felt by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents on Nov. 11th?

I suppose we can if we continue to tell the stories and sing the songs. Please take a moment and have a listen – for Remembrance Day.

The Green Fields of France – John McDermitt

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23 thoughts on “Remembering

  1. Welcome back Isobel

    It’s been a long while! Please don’t make a habit out of it 🙂 This is a post which makes one reflect then drown in thought.

    I’m glad that your children don’t have a living memory of war. I wish the same could be true with mine.

    While the winners (and ironically the losers) of WWII reaped all the benefits of the postwar era, at a price certainly, those countries which were under Colonial rule paid and are still paying for mistakes they were never responsible for.

    The conflict in the Middle East for instance is the way WWII winners chose to purge their conscience. Because of a twisted sense of morality they turned their victims into aggressors and removed the burden of guilt off their shoulders and dumped it somewhere else.

    Your and subsequent generations in the “Free” World should remember and honor those who fought in (whether they died or survived) the 2 World Wars. In the back of their minds, however, no one should forget that they can’t build a future on the misery of others. Like weather, human tribulation is never constant and it WILL eventually shift and move from place to place.

    Beautiful and sad song. Thank you for your most poignant writing.

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    1. Your points are very well made, Abufares, and I thank you wholeheartedly for your thoughtful comment. I thought about each of these things as I was writing the post. I left my post open because everyone has their own reason for remembering. Mine is that I have an undying hope that someday there will be no more war. If we forget our history we are doomed to repeat it…isn’t that the saying? Also, the boys (because they were boys) who fought were not privy to the plans of the big men running the show. Their ideal, rightly or wrongly, was that they were fighting for the freedom of their own country and that in itself is worthy of respect. Respect because they fought in hell and so many of them died in hell for that ideal…and only that. It is worth remembering because we don’t want to suffer the same misery, watching our own children marching off to war, our children seeing horrors beyond our imagination and theirs, and then not to have them return to us. It is worth remembering because war, particularly a world war, always causes catastrophe and misery everywhere, before, during and after.

      I, too, am glad that my children don’t know war. It is an abomination for the pawns and all victims. I hope they will grow up with a new focus in mind, a new strategy to shape the world, instead of resorting to the old and miserable methods.

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  2. I was missing your postings too, Isobel.
    I guess remembrance is important. Not only to avoid repeating errors from the past, but above all, to pay honor and express respect for those who went through hell under the kings of the war. Survivors or not, each one has a million reasons for us to respect and honor them.
    We use to study at school, for example, and to mention some matters concerning to my country, that “General San Martín crossed the Andes”. A simple line that cannot possible describe that terrible journey.
    The thing with wars is: when the generation that fought one becomes too old and a new generation appears, this new one hasn’t deal first-handedly with a war. So it is likely to start a new one. And the vicious circle starts all over again.
    Saludos.

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    1. Thank you, Gabriela. Its nice to see you too! 🙂 It is a vicious cycle and although we try hard to remember, there are still terrible battles raging all over the world, and many threatening to begin. Peace seems so elusive. And maybe as Abufares said, it is due to the fact that freedom always seems to come at a cost to someone else. We need to figure out how to get the balance right. If that’s even possible for humans to achieve – probably not given our current political systems and seemingly entrenched narrow vision. But one can always hope for a brighter future.

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  3. I recall reading a book by Farley Mowat called “The Regiment”. It was the story of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, the regiment he served in for part of WWII. I recall him describing the time in September 1939 when Britain and France declared war, and Canada followed a few days later. Men (it was mostly men back then) from all walks of life, from all vocations, from all over Canada set aside their lives to join the military in the service of their country. For political reasons there was no draft in Canada, and so Canada’s entire military effort was staffed by volunteers. True citizen soldiers — not professionals. Men and women who would rather not be soldiers, but chose to be anyway. Men and women who knew they didn’t have to go, but went anyway. It is these men and women for whom I wear a poppy.

    I doubt that such would be the case now — at least in Canada. And somehow, oddly, I also find that somewhat inspiring too. Today’s youth are less naive than the youth of 70 years ago. They don’t see war as the glamorous endeavor people once did. I like that. It gives me a bit of hope that, as time goes on, the politicians and generals will be starved of the raw material of war, young lives, and we can relegate this enterprise to history. I can hope can’t I?

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    1. It is definitely something to hope for, Brigand. I hope so too. My only concern is with the rise of technology…young people are not as willing to fight…hand to hand…but are not necessarily opposed to war. I mean, look at the number of kids hooked on the Wii and the frighteningly life-like war-games available. I know its a big leap from a TV screen to a battlefield…but then again, maybe not. Kids are very desensitized. But on the upside of technology, it has opened up the world before their eyes and hopefully they can better see the devastation brought by war.

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  4. ‘But for my children, it will be wars of last century, fought by people who are gone or almost all gone. I wonder then, how we can instil in the next generation the same sense of respect that was and is felt by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents on Nov. 11th?’

    If only that were true Isobel. At this very moment young Canadians along with Brits and Americans are in Afghanistan. Where Canada has taken significant (for a small army) casualties. Your point about technology is true of course. But is a child playing with an xbox or Wii so different from the boy of generations ago who played with cast lead soldiers or air fix models? Abufares alluded to the situation with Palestine and made the oft repeated but false claim that western guilt about Jews was transferred onto Arabs as punishment with the creation of Israel. Before this is repeated it is worth stating two historical facts. Israel was created under a UN mandate in 1948. Also many of the Palestinian Arabs colluded with the Nazi genocide under the leadership of Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem.

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    1. Paul,

      I think it’s possible to distinguish between wars fought by the citizenry of nations, and wars fought by an elite cadre of professionals. People who joined the military and made it their profession because they liked it. It isn’t Canada that has taken casualties. It is this cadre. Especially since there isn’t a consensus amongst the citizenry of Canada that this cadre should be there fighting in our name. These might as well have been Canadians serving in the French Foreign Legion or Blackwater. I dare say that if the government attempted to draft people to go fight, there would be the same mass protests in our streets as we saw in the US during the Vietnam War; the last war where the US citizenry was asked to fight. That’s a good thing.

      I think in this case it’s easy to say our kids don’t know war. Canada could be in Afghanistan, or not, and our lives here would be absolutely identical to what they are now — at least for 95% of us. I don’t think the same holds true for most people during the first and second world wars.

      Regards

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  5. ‘I think in this case it’s easy to say our kids don’t know war. Canada could be in Afghanistan, or not, and our lives here would be absolutely identical to what they are now — at least for 95% of us. I don’t think the same holds true for most people during the first and second world wars.’

    Brigand, you are surely correct when you say that regardless of whether Canada was in Afghanistan or not the life of the ordinary Canadian would be probably be the same in the short term.

    I couldn’t disagree more with the rest of what you have to say. In fact your views seem to represent a strong disdain or contempt for the Armed Forces. 133 Canadians have died; they did have Mothers, friends and spouses. In fact I’ve trained with the Canadian forces and they rank as amongst the world’s most professional. However I sense that you would wish to dehumanise them with a disingenuous reference to Blackwater? I sincerely hope that the reason Isobel did not mention Canada’s Afghan losses, was that like you she feels they were mercenaries and as such their deaths are no loss. If I’m misrepresenting you please revert back to me. As to future generations and the present not knowing war, this is a separate subject. However it is misguided to think so even if we would all desire it to be so. The current conflicts are asymmetrical and as such the likelihood of a conventional invasion is virtually zero, even if God forbid a Caliphate did come back into existence. However terrorism is definitely here to stay, Al Qaeda inspired plots to attack the US, UK and indeed all of the west will carry on for the definite future. Our kids are never going to be in landing craft racing towards Normandy beaches or similar. They will however be targeted by jihadists, at airports, shopping malls and similar venues. My own personal criticism of the Afghan mission is that it is not geared towards preventing such activity. Instead it is a misguided attempt at nation building but that argument is for another time.

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    1. Paul

      I don’t deny that the loss of the 133 Canadians is felt by the people around them. Of course they are. But their loss is felt by a small circle. Most Canadians don’t know someone who has perished or has even served in Afghanistan. In fact, I bet most Canadians don’t even know someone serving in the Armed Forces. But like I said, their loss is the loss of 133 individual families. No different than if they had been working for Medecins sans Frontiers, or the French Foreign Legion, or Blackwater. I scan the newspapers as each soldier falls, and invariably, a father, or a mother or a sibling or an aunt will say something to the effect “He/She has always wanted to be a soldier.” Never have I heard one of them say, “She had a promising career in medicine. As a matter of fact she had no interest in the military at all. She had never even given the military a thought before. But she felt the call of duty and decided she needed to serve. So she put it all aside and joined up.” MOST people who served in WWI and WWII fall into the latter description.

      You and I both agree when we think that the Canadian Forces personnel are professional. But that kind of makes my point for me. And like true professionals they will fight any battle their government tells them to fight. Had the current government been in power in 2003, they would have joined in the invasion of Iraq, regardless of their own consciences. That’s another difference between them and the men whose conscience, or morals drove them to fight in WWI and WWII, as Isobel said. Why should I wear the Poppy for a cadre of Pros? They are not “of” me. They are doing precisely what they want to be doing. They like it. They have an internal need to do it. I personally know of a reservist who joined the USMC because he didn’t think he’d see enough action in the Canadian Forces. These people don’t have me in mind.

      I hope you don’t see terrorism as a new phenomenon when you say it’s “here to stay.” Terrorism is like carpentry. It’s a tactic. It’s a tool. It’s a practice. We’ve never been without it. You might say that the spark that finally ignited WWI was struck by a “terrorist”. So I’m not particularly cowed by the threats of jihadists or Irish Repuplicans or Tamils or the Red Brigades or the Michigan Militia or Sikh Separatists or … or … or… any more than I’m cowed by my friendly neighborhood criminals and thugs. Canada’s largest terrorist incident was carried out by Sikh separatists over 20 years ago. Per capita, Canada lost more citizens on June 23, 1985 than the US did on September 11, 2001. Only one man has gone to jail for that. And he’s out now. We know of others in the plot, but there was not enough evidence to convict, so they were found innocent. So, there’s no Sea change. Things aren’t “different now”. Well, some things are different –here is a case in point: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/us/11brfs-PRIESTMISTAK_BRF.html . Paranoia is sky high, but aside from that, things are proceeding as they always have.

      I disagree with you on one other point. We do have caliphates in existence. One is in Saudi Arabia, another is in Iran. Funny how one is our “ally” and the other is our “enemy”. Funny, also how our “enemy” is actually more democratic, and more progressive with a more vibrant youth sub-culture than our ally.

      Anyway, enough debating for now. I look forward to your response.

      PS.. Thanks Iz, for hosting this forum.

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  6. Glad to see the discussion guys. It’s very interesting. Paul, in response to your comment about soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. I mourn the deaths of anyone involved on both sides. All of these deaths could have been prevented if we weren’t involved in supposedly “cleaning up” after the mess the US made. We are the invaders there and the professional soldiers who chose to enlist and fight there knew the risks. They aren’t there fighting to save Canada, or freedom, or anything of the sort and I would hope no one would be foolish enough to believe so.

    As for your point about technology…pretending and playing with “cast lead soldiers” and models is a HELL of a lot different than watching people blown to bits on a computer screen. Come on…do I really need to explain that one?

    I won’t speak for Abufares…but I have to say, lots of different groups colluded with the Nazi’s. So I don’t really see your point. Do you mean, because, as you say, the Palestinian Arabs did, they should still be paying for it? This is a “serves them right” kind of thing? And guilt – you don’t think this is why Israel was formed? Wow…give me a better reason and I’ll consider it. But I haven’t heard one yet.

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  7. Isobel

    I’ve been reading quietly. I really don’t like to advertise my opinions on other people’s blogs and I won’t go in any further discussion or debate on this matter.
    Arguing with the extreme Right, whether a Crusader or a Taliban is an exercise in futility.
    Does anyone even remember that Churchill authorized physiological experiments on the mentally ill and … on Jews too?
    Thank you for displaying so much patience.

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    1. You’re right, Abufares. No one is going to change anyone else’s mind on these matters in particular. Sometimes its just cathartic to express one’s view anyway and sometimes its just an exercise in frustration. Anyway, I enjoy an amiable discussion here but I always appreciate the courtesy you show time after time. Thank you very much.

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  8. HEEEERE you aaaare … I missed you LOTS!!!
    What a very thoughtful piece of writing Isobel … you’re so right, we are a generation who have the luxury (so far at least) to learn about wars from the memory of others. I feel blessed indeed … and HOPE, the generation of my kids will continue this trend … honestly though, I am leary – mankind becomes too greedy, vindictive, mean, plain – CRAZY! When I look direction Middle East … I wonder how long tormented, fenced in, occupied people are capable of sitting and enduring (more or less at least).

    Maybe it sounds naive to you or others but I am convinced EVERY conflict can be solved over a cup (or many cups) of coffee (or tea) … it’s only a question of how long it takes to find a common, to all acceptable denominator! I wouldn’t need nukes (OF COURSE NOT!!) nor ANY kind of other weapon … not even boarders but I know, considering the world we’re in, it sounds crazy.

    BE IN TOUCH!
    🙂

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    1. Hi Karin!! And here YOU are!! Its so nice to see you. Thanks for your comment…I always enjoy your words. It would be wonderful to have a world without conflict and borders…and we can only hope but I think its far off…really far. Anyway…I’d be happy to sit with you and have a cup of coffee. 🙂 I have a link to send you you’d enjoy…on exactly the same subject…kinda cute.

      I shall drop by your place soon. I need to catch up on my reading!! 🙂 Take care.

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  9. I have to say that I’m somewhat disheartened by the lack of sympathy for Canada’s soldiers here, in fact I think it’s disgraceful. It is surely correct to say that they are professional soldiers. However it is also true that Canada as a democratic nation has deployed them. I could empathise with an opinion that disagreed with the Afghan war of course. However I find sentiments that attack the soldiers themselves, or rather infer as a sub text that as professionals and not conscripts they are unworthy of sympathy to be appalling. Still of course those are your opinions.

    The reason Canadians along with Brits, Americans and others are in Afghanistan is because of terrorism and in particular 9/11. The verifiable truth is that the mission is aimed at reconstruction. For every dollar spent on munitions more is spent on actually building the place. Also girls now attend school and Al Qaeda has decamped for now to Pakistan. These are verifiable facts; check out Michaelyon online or numerous other sources. Are there problems with the Afghan government and indeed the entire strategy? You bet there is but I simply don’t have the time to outline at the moment my personal reservations. However rest assured whatever you feel about it Canadian soldiers and others are not marauding the place, they are a modern Army not the SS. Indeed the operations that take place in Helmand and Kandahar are joint ops with the Afghan Army. I wonder if you have any sympathy for when the ANA soldiers fall in combat? Separately though both Brigand and Isobel seem to only empathise with citizen conscript soldiers. Brigand you said:

    ‘You and I both agree when we think that the Canadian Forces personnel are professional. But that kind of makes my point for me. And like true professionals they will fight any battle their government tells them to fight. ‘

    Also:

    ‘Why should I wear the Poppy for a cadre of Pros? They are not “of” me. They are doing precisely what they want to be doing. They like it.’

    It is clear that you hold a disdain for a professional military and I can understand that point of view whilst I disagree. But if only conscript citizen soldiers evince sympathy from you, then I take it you do empathise with the conscript IDF? So you would accept their losses (including the kidnapped Gilad Shalit) as being worth giving a damn? Failure to do so could allow you to be accused of hypocrisy but that is a separate subject.

    I’ll concede your point Isobel about modern ‘war’ games and the like. I wouldn’t favour banning them but surely it is correct o give violent games an adult rating. The debate got onto Israel. It is I feel rather a tired argument to explain Israel was somehow formed due to western guilt. There had always been a Jewish presence in the region. The Jewish resettlement to the region increased from the 19th century onwards. Also such a scheme had by the 1930′ League of Nations backing and so was legal (even if Britain disallowed during their mandate). Finally in 1948 Israel was formed under a UN Mandate and was supposed to be part of an organised peace agreement. However the Arabs sadly reneged on it and declared war on the embryonic Israel. Read Martin Gilbert’s work for more information on this period.

    Abu Fares you seem to withdraw from the debate but offer a point of view anyhow? Also ‘Arguing with the extreme Right, whether a Crusader or a Taliban is an exercise in futility.’ If that is aimed at me could you verify or withdraw it? You can copy from my blog if you wish to prove I am some sort of far right extremist? Statements like that make you appear somewhat Churlish.

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    1. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, Paul. I’ve made my opinions clear already, as have you, and I would only be repeating myself by responding to you on your latest comment. Support or not of “the troops”, the creation of Israel, and so on are all subjects on which people become firmly entrenched with their positions. I doubt we will find common ground here.

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    2. Hi Paul

      I suppose if I were in Israel I’d wear the poppy for conscript soldiers. Chances are I’d be one too. Although I might observe that conscripts don’t exactly fit the laudable and admirable description I gave earlier: “She had a promising career in medicine. As a matter of fact she had no interest in the military at all. She had never even given the military a thought before. But she felt the call of duty and decided she needed to serve. So she put it all aside and joined up.” Serving in the military under threat of prison doesn’t strike me as particularly altruistic.

      Perhaps I can explain a bit more why I feel this way. I deplore in-group/out-group distinctions that people tend to exhibit. It’s a vestigial meme that served us well as we evolved as a species in small groups of hunters/gatherers. Where the members of your village or clan or tribe bonded together tightly and cooperated. But where members of other clans, tribes, etc. were treated with suspicion. Each nation’s military (among other institutions — like the monarchy)and it’s attendant rituals, ceremonies, and dress, and… and… and… is a manifestation of the in-group/out-group distinctions. The pride and gratitude I’m expected to this particular military would be replaced by the pride and gratitude I’m expected to show in somebody else’s military if I were to move 100km south of where I live now. I don’t think theres a place for that kind of meme in a global culture. I would rather honour people for their ideas and the contributions they make to the planet as a whole.

      I might also observe that whilst you are technically correct, and that Israel did come about by a UN General Assembly resolution, the motives driving how the countries voted surely included the plight of the Jews in Europe in WWII. I mean after a century of Zionism, only three years after the end of the war, Israel comes into being. Both the Eastern and and the Western Blocs voted to partition Palestine. I might add that the UK is the only major western country to abstain. Perhaps they knew something everybody else didn’t. But anyway, that’s neither here nor there now. Israel exists and is not going anywhere. The facts on the ground are such that undoing the last 60 years would result in a greater evil than befell the Palestinians in 1948. The unfinished task at hand is to treat the remaining Palestinians fairly and compensating those that were displaced. I lay significant blame with the fact that this hasn’t been done in the lap of Israel — not all of it, but most of it.

      Again, thanks Isobel for indulging us this forum to converse.

      Brigand.

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  10. Ah Isobel, I see that you, too, have been busy with domestic chores the past month! I have shifted apartments and it has been absolutely hectic to settle in. So much clutter, and the mopping has been terrible – the flooring is rough marble that never gives the satisfaction of owning a good mop.

    As for your subject matter, I hope our children don’t live a war, or see it on TV even, though by the looks of things we are quite lucky – hearing the stories or seeing it through the telly – but our children may not be as lucky, but here’s hope that they don’t have to suffer the indecision of older dopes.

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    1. Oh KJ, I don’t know which is worse…moving or renovating!! Sorry to hear about your floor…mine is covered with drywall dust. Luckily it is hardwood and when it becomes logical to clean it, it shouldn’t be a problem.

      Older dopes is right. Sigh.

      I’ll have to drop by your place soon. I haven’t been writing or reading much but hope to get back to it soon. So glad you came by here. Take care and maybe just get a carpet. 🙂

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  11. I just saw the movie Passchendaele. In it the main character says in response to a young man next to him asking himself why the heck he is there up to his neck in muck and why did he think it would be glorious and he answers: “Because war is the only thing we are all good at. All of us regardless of race, it’s our one common talent.” Something like that … and I remember thinking …. shit … he’s right.

    His point was – it will always exist. It’s unfortunate but true. In some way, under some format it will exist. In a boardroom, on the battlefields or as I see it … even capitalism is a form of war.

    The war we humans rage on the planet is another sign that we are – as a species, a parasite. Our behaviour is that. We kill each other off, and we kill our host.

    In the end – I remember, not because I think it will change anything – if history can show us anything it’s that we’ve only learned how to do it better. It’s nearly 2010 and over 60% of the planet is at war in some way. How have we learned?

    I remember because I admire those that found a way to bring light to the darkness, to rebuild and find strength. I don’t disrespect the soldiers or the ones that fought – but when I remember it’s the civilians I honour. The ones who showed our humanity. Some are soldiers, I will never forget the Canadian soldier my gran told me about that gave up the starch he used to iron his shirts so that my Mother could have porridge. saved her life.

    It’s not war I honour. It’s survival and hope. Hope that perhaps one day – we will learn. I hope – before it’s too late.

    http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/culture/story.html?id=9e24ab45-1dfe-409d-bb84-6b5ab6ead317

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    1. Fantastic comment, Fantasia. Thank you so much. Your point about humans being parasites couldn’t be more compelling. It is so, so true. I’m not sure we’ll ever learn either…but if we don’t hope we will definitely never learn. So great to see you here as always!

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