Remembrance Begins on the Twelfth

This might piss people off. I’m okay with that.

I have an odd tradition. I start wearing the poppy on Nov. 12th, usually right up until the end of the year.

I do this not out of any affinity for the Forces or militarism, and not because it ‘supports the troops’. I do this because, frankly, I’m not sure what people are ‘remembering’ prior to the 11th. I only know that too many forget all too easily the real costs of war, and much like a discarded poppy trampled underfoot in the slush of an early snowfall, we conveniently allow ourselves to forget, to equate ‘remembrance’ with a shallow display of pseudo nationalist pride. It seems cheap, like the advertisement you see above.

There was once a tradition called the Highway of Heroes. When Canadian troops were killed in Afghanistan and the bodies returned to CFB Trenton, they’d be given a hero’s welcome, with patriotic Canadians lining highway 401 and its overpasses as hearses passed underneath, replete with a police escort.

To my knowledge, no such greeting is given to our astronauts who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for science. No such greeting is given to the doctors who go to Somalia, the Sudan, Haiti (etc) prepared to save lives in war zones without armed escorts. No such greeting is given to engineers who go to disaster zones to rebuild. Nope – just those who were thrown into the meat-grinder due to lack of career options or a misplaced sense of patriotism.

I wonder if the people who came out to participate out of a sense of patriotic duty asked themselves whether or not the dead died in vain. What heroic acts did these men and women do? What did they accomplish?

Maybe it doesn’t matter now – they’re dead. Families torn to pieces, widows, widowers, children who will grow up without a parent, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers weeping on Christmas and useless birthdays, some daring to ask why, others bottling-up their fears and anger in poisons of one kind or another to dull the pain. And all for what?

Is death in a foreign land the only prerequisite to be a hero? If so, I think we need to re-think what hero really means. I’m starting to think high-school science fair winners have stricter requirements placed on them in order to win first prize. And then it hits me – most school boards have enacted policies in the last twenty years to do away with the separation of winners and losers, hell, most schools don’t bother with science fairs anymore either. Instead, we all get ‘participation awards’.

And so, to your hero, I raise the spectre of a mere participant.

True acts of heroism, bravery and courage are hard to come by. Heroes put their lives on the line in support of an ideal greater than themselves. As you might imagine, there are remarkably few heroes in war, especially when war itself is little more than an excuse to stimulate floundering economies.

Don’t make excuses – our enlightened placeholder of a Prime Minister extended the Afghan mission as an excuse to buy fancy military hardware (we didn’t really need) and to demonstrate that ‘Canada can punch above its weight’. Our nation is run by a very insecure party that feels it must involve itself in the same idiocy that is tanking the economies of many Western nations. Under Martin we were supposed to have left in 2006. Under Harper, five more years were added. And we’ve accomplished nothing during that time.

And it’s the same thing for almost every conflict we’ve ever been involved in. Nothing was accomplished to secure a lasting peace during the First World War – in fact, the Allies almost assured themselves another war within thirty years (which they got). Nothing was accomplished in Korea (other than fostering the development of a rogue nuclear-power), nothing was accomplished during the First Gulf War either.

In fact, the only time we seem to be able to do any real good in the world is when we use our military for peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, disaster assistance, etc.

But for too many Canadians, this is considered a terrible injustice to the men and women in uniform. For Tories, it is a sign of weakness.

Frankly, given that they’ve hacked away at Veteran’s benefits and its largely the poor who get killed, I wonder why any of us have ever paid any attention to a Tory with regards to issues of ‘defence’. They’re just involved in the marketing/brainwashing side of a war, and not so much the sacrifice and heroism part.

So I’ll gladly pin my poppy to my lapel today and wear it with pride, though that pride is the pride that comes with dissent, with knowing we’ve been taken for a ride. It is the pride I take in knowing that my individual freedoms are protected by myself, and not by a man with a gun on the other side of the planet fighting for reasons he himself cannot describe. I’ll remember how pointless war is, and how, no matter how hard we try, we will never find the satisfaction of service experienced by the veterans of the Second World War. They had to stop a genocidal madman. When the war was over, they came home and did their best to block out the awful memories. Some paid for their lives in recurring night-terrors, alcoholism, drug abuse and a host of other social pathologies. They died, in many cases, with souls so wounded they could never, ever heal. Most would never return to combat, and for good reason.

I remember a Canada, the country of youth, that shunned militarism. We knew what a hero was back then.

Today, our government and society has made the term almost meaningless.

At some point in the next ten years, you’ll be buying six poppy ‘value-packs’ at the Remembrance aisle in Wal-Mart. You’ll be there to take advantage of the Remembrance Day Savings Spectacular (with discounts on all name-brand appliances, apparel and electronics).

And you too will be a hero, if just for one day.

And I’ll remember, standing by the wall.

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