You can’t find a poppy for sale in my neck of the woods; they’ve all been snapped up. Whether it’s the war in Iraq, the Canadian troops in Afghanistan or simply a growing feeling that peace and life are both precious and precarious, there seems to be just a little more solemnity in the air as we near 11 a.m.
At the IAPC conference on the weekend, someone mentioned to me that their kid’s school would be hearing from a Holocaust survivor today. It occurred to me that there would only be so many more years before that would no longer be possible. The First World War veteran who spoke at Lynden Public School when I was in Grade 4 has almost certainly passed on by now; CBC Radio was mentioning a few hours ago that an association of Second World War nurses would be disbanding this year because so many of its members were no longer well enough to participate, or no longer alive.
A lot of the talk on Remembrance Day is about how our soldiers fought and died for freedom and democracy. That elides a much more complex truth, that individual soldiers had varied and personal reasons for joining up — if, in fact, they had an option at all. Economics, family expectations, personal pride, impulsiveness, peer pressure, or the legal compulsion of conscription all helped send young people across the ocean to kill and die. But so did patriotism, and for some, idealism.
Yet perhaps none of that matters as much as the main reason soldiers go to war: because our governments ask them to. And whether the state’s goals are noble or base, our soldiers obey. As Michael Moore said at the end of Fahrenheit 9/11, “All they ask for in return is that we never send them into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Whatever else people thought of his film, the wisdom of those words should resonate today.