Remembrance Day thoughts

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Poppy salesAn article on the Global News site titled “Fewer Canadians plan to wear poppies this Remembrance Day, poll finds” made me think again about what Remembrance Day is for. The article opens:

Fewer people plan to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies or wear poppies this year, according to a poll from Historica Canada that also suggests knowledge of Canadian military history is dwindling.

To be fair, I’d suggest knowledge of pretty much everything factual is dwindling. One only need look at social media posts from anti-vaxxers, or anti-maskers to see how much knowledge of science and medicine has been lost in recent years. And, like most followers of pseudoscience and conspiracies, such stupidity is a self-inflicted wound. 

And, too, it is difficult to fault people for not attending group ceremonies during a pandemic when health officials are warning against large gatherings. Non-participation on Remembrance Day in 2020 might have a lot to do with that. This year, like many others in our community, we observed our two minutes of silence at home.

I’ve found it’s a bit difficult to even find poppies this year: I have only seen them for sale in the post office, locally. Of course, this year I have not looked for them in as many places as in previous years, so I might not have visited a location where they were available.

Still, excuses aside, I wonder what other reasons people would have for not participating. Are people just getting jaded? Or simply don’t care about showing respect? Are we losing our collective memories as we lose our veterans?

I recall writing an editorial for the newspaper some decades back, asking where all the municipal employees were, who got a holiday on Remembrance Day but didn’t show up at the cenotaph for the ceremonies. And standing there during the silence, I could always see trucks and cars racing by on First Street, and pedestrians and cyclists going about their business, ignorant of the significance of the events taking place a hundred or so meters away.

Among the other things the poll reported:

  • Four in ten Canadians feel they know more about American military history than that of Canada;
  • 16 percent of Canadians never learned about Canada’s key conflicts in school — including the First World War, Second World War, Korean War, and October Crisis;
  • 45 percent of respondents think they know about the history of Black, Indigenous, and racialized groups in Canadian military service, but only 14 percent could correctly identify the country’s only all-Black battalion – the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

Sobering statistics to ponder on Remembrance Day. What sort of education curriculum doesn’t teach these things? What sort of society do we get when we forget (or ignore) our past? It’s easy to believe the recent rise of fascism, white supremacy, and the radical right is the result of our forgetting why so many of our citizens fought and died for freedoms and democracy.

No one is alive today who served in WWI. The last Canadian vet was John Babcock, who died on Feb. 18, 2010, at 109 years old. Had he lived, my grandfather (my mother’s father who served in the early Canadian Navy) would be 127 years old. My father’s father, who served in the English army in Egypt and Palestine in WWI, would be 131.

There can’t be many WWII veterans alive, either. My father died at age 92, my mother at 95, both gone many years now (he would be 106 and she 101, had they lived). Assuming a young man (or possibly woman) age 16 signed up in 1945 and survived until war’s end, they would be 91 today; the youngest age for a living veteran. If they signed up at 18 in 1939, as so many young men did, they would be 99 years old now.

My generation had both grandparents and parents in those wars; we heard the stories from those who served; it was part of our blood. Both of my and Susan’s parents served, so, at least for us, Remembrance Day has a family connection. Lest we forget.

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