Remembrance Day a time to reflect on reality of war

Every year, on Nov. 11, we gather at cenotaphs to commemorate those who fought for Canada during both the world wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars and now the present war in Afghanistan.

Over the years, however, I’ve found that everyone experiences and interprets remembrance ceremonies in their own unique way.

My first memory of Remembrance Day goes back to elementary school, when representatives from my town’s local legion came to explain why we wear poppies.

Being a jaded ten-year-old however, my friends and I were too occupied by threading the poppies’ needles through the first few layers of our fingertips.

That, and taking apart the poppies to wear on our lips, was how my first few Remembrance Days were spent.

Eventually, I became a Girl Guide, and actually participated in my town’s annual ceremony.

I was given the honour of carrying the Canadian flag across town with those annoying bagpipers, and stood in the freezing cold for the two minutes of silence, rather than in a warm classroom with my friends.

The entire time I was standing out there, holding that flag, all I could think about was how cold it was, and how nice it would be to go inside and have some hot chocolate.

Then it hit me: how much more difficult it would have been for all of those soldiers, sitting in trenches throughout the winter, not knowing if they would ever see their families again, let alone get a mug of hot chocolate.

That’s when I began to appreciate the idea of commemoration; these soldiers who dedicated their lives to their country deserved a lot more than two minutes of silence from us.

A few years later, at another Remembrance Day ceremony, I was able to have a conversation with that veteran who came to speak.

During his presentation, he told the audience that his only memory from the Second World War was when he delivered care packages to civilians in a town that had recently been bombed.

Afterwards, I asked if that was actually his only memory, and he reluctantly said “No.”

He then explained to me that he never shares any other stories from the war because people don’t understand his experience, and tend to interpret it negatively.

At the time I didn’t understand what he meant, but this past summer, after taking a history course focusing on the mythology of war and memory, I fully understood why that veteran, or any veteran for that matter, would choose to lie about their experience in any given conflict.

For the most part, the general public has given in to myths about war and memory that are projected by the government, which are ideals constructed around the belief that soldiers were sent off to fight against an evil enemy that was out to destroy our civilized, western society.

However, this is not fully true. While I am not trying to debunk soldiers for their dedication to their country — they should all be considered heroes for the turmoil that they experience — we should not idealize and glorify them, as it tends to obstruct the truth.

We tend to forget that these soldiers also killed other men who also had families to return to, and a country to defend.

At the end of the day, those fighting on both sides are simply humans, and nothing more.

We allow ourselves to give into myths about war because we are unable to comprehend the violently brutal truth about reality.

No one wants to remember how their grandfather was slain in battle and left to die, so instead of remembering the truth surrounding his actions and story, we latch on to the idea that he was only fighting for the good of his country; that he was fighting against an external force hell-bent on destroying our society.

So this Remembrance Day, instead of sticking poppies through your hands and just simply standing there for the moment of silence, think about why you, and society as a whole, are commemorating our soldiers.

Take a moment to consider the history, rather than just remembering something because you were told to do so.

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