Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance And A Hope For Peace

Today is November 11. In Canada and most Common Wealth countries today is known as Remembrance Day.

At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, citizens pause to pay tribute to those brave souls of the armed forces who have served and especially to those who died in the service of our country.

I can remember going to services in elementary school. The school would hold a service in the gym on the school day closest to November 11. All students were expected to attend - parents and guests were also invited. There would be bagpipes and some other music, readings, as well as a laying of a wreath. We'd hear veterans from WW1 and WW2 talk about service and freedom. I don't think they told too many war stories, but then again, I was very young.

My maternal grandfather served in WW1. Several uncles served in WW2. To the best of my recollection, I can't recall hearing war stories from them or anyone I knew when I was growing up.

To be honest, I never really understood the meaning of the day when I was a kid. I don't remember being taught a lot about war and its consequences until we reached junior high or even high school. History was never one of my favourite subjects though, so whatever we were taught, pretty much left my memory as soon as the tests for various eras were over.

Even so, the concept of a nation at war and people being drafted into military service or freely signing up to fight anywhere in the world seemed like a very strange concept to a farm kid on the Canadian prairies.

Naive? Yes, I was somewhat sheltered, but that was the early 1960's. The Cold War was looming and the Vietnam War was heating up but both seemed obscure in my world. My parents followed the news and read the papers, but media did not have the ever intrusive roll that it does nowadays. Talk of wars half way around the world or demonstrations against the wars, were not common topic in our area. My parents were more focused on the day to day responsibilities of running a farm. They focused on the weather forecasts as well as the livestock and commodities markets. They focused on raising their children.

My parents did tell us some stories of what it was like for them during the depression of the 1930's and the struggles of rationing during WW2. Given our relative state of abundance, it seemed hard to believe that things had been that difficult only thirty odd years earlier.

As I grew up and was more exposed to the state of the world outside of my prairie home, I saw more reports of world conflicts, civil wars and sadly, even more senseless deaths.

Some want all the toys and all the land and the blind, undying loyalty of the people that they rule.

Some refuse any and all rights to women - including the right to be educated.

Some believe that their religion or language is the only one of value.

Some are all too eager to pick up a weapon and go after their version of justice.

Some choose to believe in the necessity of war - the concept of an eye for an eye and all the destruction that goes with it.

Not me. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't seem to wrap my mind around any reasons for people to go to war. Why couldn't they find a way to get along and live in peace?

I was a pacifist long before I even knew that there was a name for what I believed.

Strange as this may sound, I think it was while watching TV shows like "The Walton's" and seeing their day to day trials through the 30's and 40's that made war and hardship more real for me. I've never been comfortable watching war movies or documentaries though as the emotional and physical consequences of war, were just too painful for me to watch. The images would haunt my mind for days and nights after. The only two movies that I can recall managing to watch in their entirety were "Mrs.Miniver" and "Schindler's List".

In more recent years, I've had the opportunity to hear many radio broadcasts from the war years. They often included stories from the home front of how WW2 was affecting their lives and how citizens could help the efforts of the allied forces fighting on so many fronts for freedom. It hasn't changed my beliefs on pacifism - it has just helped me to understand more of the circumstances and realities of those times.

Today, there is a multitude of media formats to keep us apprised of the seemingly countless conflicts of the world. Despite all the hardships and lessons of the past, there are still those who feel the only answer is to go to war over lands, possessions and beliefs.

Why can't we find non violent ways to resolve the differences?

Why can't we learn to accept each other equally?

Why can't we learn to share?

Why can't we learn to be tolerant of others, 
regardless of our languages, religions, beliefs and abilities?

My heart breaks for those who have had to endure war. For the innocent victims of war. For those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom and equal rights for ALL citizens. For those who have lost friends and loved ones. For those families who must cope with the absence of a loved one who is serving. For those brave souls who come home broken, scarred and disabled.

However, I choose not to wear a red poppy to honour those who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.

If I were to wear a physical symbol of Remembrance Day, it would be a white poppy. A white poppy is a pacifists symbol of showing respect for, and remembrance of ALL victims of ALL wars. The word peace is written across the black center to symbolize a hope for the future.
I know that my opinions aren't shared by all and that some will be offended or feel that I am being disrespectful of those who serve. Not so. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifices they have made. With all of my heart and soul, I just wish that war and it's consequences were not even a possible answer to settling differences.
So, on this day of Remembrance, I stop to think of those who have given so much and to hope that someday, there will be Peace throughout the world.


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