November 11th is Remembrance Day, also known as the anniversary of the ending of World War One, and in many countries a day devoted to honouring those who were killed in various wars over the last century. Additionally, part of the original purpose of Remembrance Day is to acknowledge the horrific reality of war…indeed, the words “Never Again” are commonly spoken in this regard. War is a nightmare, and so many of our ancestors fought and were killed in war, and it is imperative that we remember who they were, what they sacrificed, and for what.
If you’ve ever spoken to war veterans, particularly those from World War One and Two, they likely told you that they were fighting for freedom. They were fighting for the freedom to live in peace, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of choice and association. Essentially, the freedom to live our lives however we want, without fear of violence and repression from the powers that be. Many of our grandparents and great grandparents fought against the Nazis in World War Two, and if you ask them why they did it, most (if not all) would say that they did it so that future generations would not have to live in a society like the Third Reich. Thanks to them, the Nazis lost.
This piece is not about the fact that governments regularly send poor people to their deaths over control of natural resources such as oil, or that wars such as that in Vietnam and Iraq were illegal, based on secrecy and blatant lies, and had nothing to do with a valiant quest for democracy and human rights. This piece has nothing to do with the fact that so-called “peaceful” nations such as Canada sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to very non-peaceful countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, who are literally committing genocide against Yemenis and Palestinians as we speak. This piece has nothing to do with the fact that the Military Industrial Complex has more influence on “democracy”, public policy and political life and discourse than politicians and voters combined. This piece also has nothing to do with the fact that those who lose the most in war, the highest number of casualties, are the innocent civilians who have nothing to do with geopolitics and did nothing to deserve losing their homes, their loved ones, and their lives…nor the fact that Libyan and Syrian homelands have been and continue to be destroyed and yet privileged, comfortable westerners complain about the “Islamist” refugees coming in to their countries, wanting nothing more than a life.
No, this piece has nothing to do with any of these things.
This is about Remembrance. This is about respect. This is about what we mean when we talk about respecting those who lost their lives for what so many of us take fore granted.
I see so many people focused on the formalities of Remembrance Day, but not at all focused on its original intent. I see so many people talking about the importance of wearing a red poppy around this time, but very few talking about what that poppy actually represents and the important lessons we are supposed to carry with us. I see A LOT of people talking about respecting the military, spouting off meaningless statements like “support our troops” and yet, when anybody questions what we’re actually supporting, they are quick to throw around accusations of “disrespect”, as if being able to question power and dominant narratives isn’t part of living in a free society and exactly the thing our ancestors were fighting for us to be able to do.
And you know what? I believe that many of our ancestors would think it’s bullshit too.
Why is it that people are so quick to get angry over the white poppy, which simply represents Peace, calling it “disrespectful” and “insulting” as if violence and bloodshed are the only aspects of Remembrance worth acknowledging? As I previously mentioned, Remembrance Day is not only about remembering the soldiers who died but also making sure that their deaths are not in vain, that striving for world peace should be one of our highest priorities so that future generations can avoid the exact horror that they experienced. What exactly is disrespectful about that?
The truth is, there is NOTHING disrespectful about it, but as a society we have lost touch with the original meaning of Remembrance, and any kind of change to the tradition that is Remembrance Day (in this case the red poppy) is labeled a threat before anyone has a chance to get educated on what the white poppy actually means. It’s as if people think that the white poppy means “fuck all veterans”, but what it actually means, is Peace.
If you feel threatened or insulted by a call for Peace, you need to seriously reconsider what it is you stand for, and how much you actually value the lessons taught to us by the men and women you believe fought for your basic freedoms.
The same goes with our views around war and the degree to which we support the military. Questioning the military as an institution and questioning its agendas set out by political leaders, and actively speaking out against those agendas is again, NOT a “fuck you” to your loved ones who are veterans or currently in the military. It is a “fuck you” to the exact thing that has a high probability of getting them killed, seriously injured, and most definitely traumatized for life.
My own father was in the Canadian military for over 30 years. Every year around Remembrance Day he puts on his uniform, goes out into the public and sells poppies. He participates in ceremonies in uniform and is a member of his local Legion. He is also in agreement with my anti-war views and has never taken my opposition to war as an insult, because being anti-war is not an insult. It is a stance that many of us take BECAUSE of the reality of war, BECAUSE of the bloodshed, BECAUSE of the fact that so many people have lost their lives in battle over the years, and BECAUSE we respect human life, including the lives of those in the military. I support the troops as human beings who deserve more than death, injury and trauma. I do not support the institution and political system that sees them as disposable and treats them as such.
And saying this openly is exactly what my ancestors wanted me to be able to do. Yours wanted the same for you. I guarantee it.
So check yourself next time you accuse an anti-war activist of shitting all over dead soldiers. Check yourself next time you whine about a differently coloured poppy. Check yourself next time you get caught up in the thinking that freedom of thought and freedom of speech aren’t human rights that your ancestors fought Nazis over, and in many cases, gave their lives for. Check yourself before you support current and future wars and imperialist invasions, and stand by the military without question. Check yourself and ask what kind of world you want for future generations…do we Remember those who died in war because we want more war? Or do we Remember them because we want to learn from the devastation that they went through, so that we can work for peace? Check yourself and ask, does “Never Again” actually mean something, or are they just empty words?
Let us never forget.