By Jason Menard
Let we forget. That plaintive admonition from our forefathers seems to be getting drowned out by the din of modern society and, unless things change soon, threatens to be silenced.
As we approach Remembrance Day, our collective attention is supposed to be turned towards those men and women who fought for our beliefs and ideals in the Great War, WWII, and the Korean War. Yet, for more and more people – especially the younger generations — those conflicts are rapidly distancing themselves from our present-day reality.
In my own case, the only direct links I have to Remembrance Day observances are my grandfathers – one of whom passed away in my youth, and the other of whom I never knew. My own children have no direct experience. Will Remembrance Day mean anything to them as they grow up?
My fear is that the answer will be no, unless we do something about it. We need more than a poppy on a lapel or on a coin – we need to embrace Remembrance Day as a country and pass our passion, appreciation, and knowledge on to future generations.
Although many of our veterans survived horrors beyond comprehension, tragically we are rapidly losing them to the one battle from which there is no victory. Fewer and fewer WWII veterans remain with us today, and in the not-to-distant future it’s not hard to see that those living links to our past will be broken. And with their passing, so goes the living history that’s at the root of Remembrance Day observances.
We face a number of problems, not the least of which is that we live in a disposable society. Modern-day conflicts are lamented, and just as quickly forgotten. Horrors like the Chechen school invasion are featured on CNN for 24-hours a day, and then just as quickly forgotten when the next story breaks. How can we, as a society, expect to remember wars that many of us have no direct ties to when we can’t even remember what happened last week?
Add to that the fact that war has been sanitized and edited for broadcast on the nightly news. The horrors of sending wave upon wave of soldiers from the trench to their death is incomprehensible to those growing up with remote-control wars! The majority of Canadians just don’t have the first-hand experience of what’s it’s like to have many of their friends and family go overseas never to return.
Is this all bad? Not when you consider that the price for this disconnect has been years of peace. It’s getting harder and harder to remember conflict because we’ve been blessed with years without it directly affecting our country. But, as the old adage states, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
We need to remember the horrors of war, instead of treating it as entertainment. Movies and video games depicting ‘realistic’ warfare are proliferating, but where are the real stories of tragedy? Where is the compassion for the families that were irrevocably altered by armed conflicts? Where is the commitment to honouring the brave men and women that gave so much of their lives for us?
A couple of years back I was in Montreal for Remembrance Day. I left my office and walked the two blocks to the cenotaph for the 11:00 ceremony. There I was joined by a handful of veterans, a smattering of others, and nobody else my age. With easily over 100,000 people within walking distance, this was the best we could do.
In fact, how many of people in their 30s and below even know where the local cenotaph is? We grew up wearing our poppies, going to school assemblies to hear Taps, and making wreaths out of tissue paper. And what has that left us with?
Recent generations have gone through the motions without understanding the movement. We must change that pattern before Remembrance Day becomes simply another empty gesture that will eventually fade into the mists of time.
Where do we start? Ideally, a national holiday on Remembrance Day would be welcome. A day wherein families can participate in memorials, visit monuments, or lay a wreath at a cenotaph. But we all know that even if it was a holiday, too many would treat it with no significance – after all, how many celebrate Victoria Day compared to those that celebrate ‘The 2-4’?
We need to do a better job as parents to educate our children about our past. We need our schools to take an active role in focusing curriculum on what Remembrance Day truly is. Instead of wasting time with empty symbols, we need to learn from those precious few veterans we have left. We need to record their stories — and those of their families – so that future generations can reflect upon their sacrifices.
Most of all, we need to make Remembrance Day matter again. Our veterans’ courage, sacrifice, and passion for our country has to be worth more than a quarter with a poppy on it.
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