It’s worth asking questions, now and then, about why we do things the way we do. And what they might mean, and should mean. Not to mention how they appear to people on the outside looking in.
For example, what is this ‘remembrance,’ thing that happens every year at this time? What are we remembering, and how should we be remembering it and for what purpose?
The usual clichés are not adequate, at least not for adults. It might be good enough for an elementary school kid to be told (and to believe, for a while) that ‘they fought so we could be free.’ They might have fought so somebody could be free, but it wasn’t us. We were doing just fine, and likely would have been regardless of the outcome of any war on another continent.
There are good reasons to honour the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way in service of their country. Their motivations for doing so are probably as varied as anybody’s for doing anything. Some of those motives are likely not worth celebrating, but let’s leave that aside, where it belongs.
On Nov. 11 we celebrate the best of reasons for service. We also devote a minute’s silence to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. What they may have been fighting for, as individuals, isn’t the point. The point is that service is honourable. That the wars they fought in can also be regarded as honourable is a bonus. Not every country has that luxury, and not every veteran of war would feel comfortable donning the old uniform and participating in a Remembrance Day service in his Canadian home town.
Why? Maybe because he was on the wrong side in one war or another. But his motivation for serving might have been as honourable as anyone else’s.
Let’s also take a moment to consider that the actions and motivations of the British Empire, from which we are descended, were not entirely honourable, or helpful, or historically or morally justifiable. Ignoring that and pretending we’re entirely on the ‘good’ side of history isn’t doing us or anyone else any good. Remembrance should be broad enough to include acknowledgement of that.
We don’t need to wallow in the darker side of our history, but awareness of it should be part of the picture. A picture without it is a mere myth. Mythology – nationalistic, religious, personal, or whatever – has its uses. But there is also a good case for setting it aside and regarding ourselves critically and honestly. If you aren’t doing that, you are probably excluding somebody who deserves to be included as much as anyone.
And having said all that….. let us by all means honour those who have given their lives, their health and their youth in service of their country.