Sunday is Remembrance Day. Following a brief parade and wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph, the annual Remembrance Day commemoration will take place at the Essar Centre. Many Sault and area residents will attend.
Many more will not.
To be realistic, the entire population of the Sault could not fit into the Essar Centre. And there are those who will have to work.
But there have always been those who do not attend the community service.
Some will watch the National service on tv. I have done this on quite a few occasions.
Many churches will hold Remembrance Day worship services, or at least take a portion of their regular service to honour the fallen.
Others will not.
Why is there a lack of uniformity in holding these commemorations?
Those of my generation and older grew up in an era where soldiers were held in high esteem, and military service was considered an honourable pursuit. Certainly those who grew up during either of the two World Wars knew soldiers as family, friends and neighbours.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, all volunteers, headed off overseas to fight for our freedom. While there were dissenters, overall Canadians believed this to be the right thing to do.
WWI was cited as “The war to end all wars.” WWII was the war that came after that.
The Korean conflict also received widespread support, although less that the previous World Wars.
The support for the Vietnam War was much less, and an anti-war sentiment was growing, not just among students and other idealistic types, but throughout the general population.
Over the past several decades, as conflicts became narrower in scope, confined to specific regions, support for our involvement dwindled even further.
There are those who support our involvement as necessary to prevent tyranny and terror from spreading beyond the isolated regions of its origin, and a way to stand with and defend our global neighbours.
Others disagree, claiming that these isolated conflicts are none of our business; still others are opposed to war at all costs.
That is their right.
We remind ourselves that our veterans fought for our rights and freedoms, but we sometimes forget that those rights and freedoms include the right and freedom to disagree.
There are many countries around the world where citizens are not permitted to speak out against their government and its policies; the punishment for such offences is often quite severe, including imprisonment and execution.
Still, there are those who see our rights and freedoms as firmly entrenched, and do not believe we need to maintain and use any military force to ensure their continuation. Perhaps they are right.
After all, how does fighting terrorists in Afghanistan help ensure the freedoms we enjoy half-way around the world here in Canada?
Except for those who believe the September 11th attacks were a hoax, or — worse still — that the US attacked itself to justify invading Afghanistan, it is obvious that there are elements around the world that seek to wreak havoc and destruction in other countries.
Warfare has changed.
Where at one time hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought from opposing sides of a field, or making their way through fields and forests, firing at each other with hand-held weapons — bows and arrows, muskets, rifles, rocket launchers — artillery and remotely-guided missiles and other technology has reduced the numbers of soldiers on the ground, while increasing the “killing power.”
Fewer soldiers are needed, which means there are fewer veterans returning from postings and retiring from active duty.
The growing opposition to war and participating in overseas conflicts, combined with the dwindling number of vets, makes “remembering” difficult, for many.
The time is long past when, to paraphrase the old song, “Johnny went marching off to war,” and people cheered, “Hurrah! Hurrah!”
Fewer families have members enlisting to serve in the military, and even fewer know of someone who has.
We need to remember not only that these wars and conflicts did happen, but why they happened. Yes, politics was often at the heart of these earlier conflicts, but there was much more at stake: freedom.
Many will argue that our freedom is not jeopardized by isolated conflicts in far-flung regions of the world. But ours is now a “global village” and what happens in one place can have an affect on other locations. Tyrants and dictators are seldom satisfied with a small fiefdom, and will seek to expand their power base.
Many argue that these annual commemorations are glorifying war. Nothing can be further from the truth.
When I grew up in the 60s, we played “Army.” Everyone had toy guns and plastic helmets. We would run through back yards making shooting sounds as we engaged in fake guerilla warfare.
We glorified war. But, what did we know.
Movies and video games glorify war. They make war “fun,” and somewhat sterile — in war, there are no “Start Over” buttons, and shooting more enemy “targets” doesn’t earn you a “Bonus Life.” In war, you can't press "Pause" to go to the kitchen and grab a snack.
There is nothing to glorify about war, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t remind ourselves of the outcome, and the freedoms we enjoy because of the sacrifice of those who went to war when it was necessary.
We don’t have to like war, nor even agree with it, to appreciate that there are times when conflict is unavoidable.
Whether you agree with war or not, whether you agree with the need to maintain an active and prepared military, what we need to remember is that both veterans and active-duty military personnel deserve our thanks, and deserve this public act of commemoration.
We need to remember that our freedoms were bought through the sacrifice of those who willingly stood up to defend our way of life.
But… that’s just my opinion.
Lest We Forget.