Tri City News , Nov.10, 2011
On a frosty November 11th at 11:00 A.M., the referee blew his whistle, and stopped the soccer game. I was fifteen. We all looked to the portly official for an explanation.
In thick Scottish brogue, he boomed, “Right lads, it’s time for a minute of silence to remember the lads and lasses who went before.”
Twenty two young boys in the throes of adolescence stood respectfully, steam rising from their backs. For a full minute they stood, alone with their personal thoughts.
It is that cold day that I remember as my first moment of meaningful personal reflection about the impossible circumstances faced by Canadians not much older than I.
Forty subsequent years in schools made me proud of the role our public school formalities have played in sculpting the civilized, respectful, way we Canadians recognize those who faced and fought two horrific world wars.
I love that Canadians don’t romanticize or glorify war. We don’t indiscriminately label everyone “heroes” or “fallen warriors”, and we don’t express unquestioning support for “our troops”, or for military endeavour. That isn’t what Remembrance Day is about in Canada.
While July 1st is the day Canadians celebrate our country, wave the flag and parade our patriotism, November 11th isn’t. It is the day when Canadians take time for solemn personal reflection, reflection which tempers gratitude for service with a steadfast abhorrence of war.
But with fewer and fewer world war survivors and the advent of undeclared, invisible, guerrilla, and unilateral wars, Remembrance Day is at a crossroads. Will it, as my khaki clad colleague hopes, morph into a day of genuflection to all things military; a deifying of military heroism to the point that poor young Canadians with few prospects will feel compelled by the romantic idea of fighting and dying for their country?
Today, as I vacation in Palm Springs, my poppy and those of a legion of snow birds will quietly and proudly juxtapose the U.S. Veteran’s Day parade of tanks, fly bys, military pomp, and fireworks celebrating past and present wars.
But at 11:00 A.M., I will again be the fifteen year old Canadian boy on that frosty soccer field, contemplating with Canadian countrymen, both the “lads and lasses who went before”, and the inhumanity of war.