Let Monumental Mistake Go

By Jason Menard

What’s that adage about people in glass houses? Many Canadians are in an apoplectic fit over a few drunken morons who relieved themselves on the national war memorial – but aren’t they just doing physically what we’ve been doing symbolically for years?

Now that the suspects have been identified, average citizens and talking heads will be calling for the maximum punishment that the law will allow. They will be vilified in the court of public opinion and held up as all that’s wrong with the youth of this nation.

People will trot out mantras of respect for the veterans and the actions that they’ve undertaken – and, in a few months, we’ll have forgotten about the incident. And, unfortunately, we’ll have forgotten about our veterans – again.

What these kids did wasn’t an immature expression of political dissent – it was a dumb mistake. And, in fact, I’m willing to forgive both because of the fact that we live in a free country and we have to take the good with the bad.

Is urinating on a monument any more of an affront than burning a flag? Both can be graphic acts of protest and both can be repellant to the majority of Canadians at large. But our veterans didn’t just fight for respect, they fought for our right to speak and express ourselves freely.

And if, as it appears, that this is just a drunken act of foolishness, then I don’t think there’s too many of us who haven’t done something while under the influence that we regret after the fact. Fortunately, for the majority of us, those actions weren’t caught on tape.

We need to get over ourselves. These kids – two 18-year-olds and a 21-year-old – should have known better, but made a mistake. They’re probably terrified and embarrassed and they should simply come forth and make a public apology. Let them make reparations – something like community service or, more appropriately, cleaning out bedpans at a veterans’ hospital – and then let them get on with their lives.

Because, once we move on from them, maybe we’ll take a few moments and take a look at our own actions. The fall is precipitous from this high horse we’ve decided to perch ourselves upon. Yet our behaviour towards veterans, while not as overt, is in many ways just as despicable.

Every November 11 th we pay lip service to our veterans. We wear the poppies and watch the “so-sombre-so-we-must-be-honest” retrospective documentaries about our veterans. And, before the flowers wilt on the cenotaphs and monuments, we promptly shuffle the veterans to the recesses of our mind.

Where does our threshold for disgust lie? To me, a drunken mistake is less offensive than the idiots who disrespect our national anthem during a sporting event to bellow out “Go Team Go.” To me, a foolish action by kids who should have known better is more forgivable than those people who don’t know the lyrics to our national anthem or stand at attention in respectful silence when O Canada is being played.

In fact, I attended a junior hockey game around Remembrance Day last year where a couple of our few remaining veterans were being honoured. In what could have been a touching ceremony, some idiot was unable to quell his Neanderthal urges and decided to use a quiet part of the anthem to make a grab for his 15 seconds of fame, shouting out “Go Knights Go!”

Now tell me how that’s any more respectful? Tell me how a conscious decision to disrespect the song that represents this country – the song that represents the country that these veterans fought for – shouldn’t be held in less regard than what these kids did?

To me the issue is clear. In general, we don’t treat our veterans with the respect they deserve. We trot them out, in ever dwindling numbers, every November as a panacea to our guilty consciences. And then we shuffle them off again to be called upon when it’s time to make ourselves look good.

How many of us go and visit veterans during the rest of the year? How many of us pay the proper respect at our cenotaphs and monuments? How many of us ensure our children are aware of the sacrifices and efforts that their grandparents and great-grandparents made so that we could have the opportunity to enjoy the life we do today? How many of us make sure that the horrors that these veterans faced are never forgotten by passing down the memories to future generations?

Sadly, not enough. As a society, we love to make big shows of our faith – naming streets or highways after veterans, having big ceremonies on Remembrance Day. But it’s not the big displays that matter – it’s the little efforts we take each and every day that really count. And it’s those efforts that a significant number of us don’t do enough of.

So let’s lay off these kids, who obviously made an egregious mistake. After all, we’ve been pissing on the veterans for years ourselves.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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