Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and in the Western world in one form or another. It is a day that marks the Armistice, the end of World War I. It was a particularly special day for those of us fortunate enough to live in a nation of the British Commonwealth, for it marked the 100th anniversary of Great Brittan’s entry into the war. It is a day to remember, a day of quietude and thankfulness, not a day for retail sales, commercialism or big shows.
Perhaps those who know me as a life long pacifist will find a blog post about memorializing war unusual, even out of character; an expat American who is profoundly Canadian to his core. The True North Strong and Free has been my home since 1968, more than twice as long as I lived in the US. I, like many others, emigrated from the United States to other places because of opposition to a profoundly unjustified conflict and government’s policies based in hegemony not humanity.
As I sat in my car today listening to the ceremonies from the cenotaph in Ottawa, I was profoundly moved, and as always cast into an abyss of thought and introspection. My first thoughts always go to my American brothers and sisters that fought and died in the Viet Nam conflict, and equally to those who came back physically and mentally damaged. You see, I am a pacifist, but I am not anti-military, just anti-militerist.
Viet Nam, and the conflicts in Iraq and to some extent Afghanistan, were political, economic and vengeful wars. The two World Wars were a different ilk of war. They were much more about preventing certain countries from dominating other countries. World War II and the battle for freedom in opposition to the horrors of Hitler’s Germany strikes particularly close to home, since my father and uncles all fought in one or another of the areas of conflict, in the Army, Navy or Marines.
The Cold War era, and all that flowed from the geopolitical tensions it brought to bear on governments and people, is the war of my youth. The philosophy of mutual assured destruction, the arms race, the Bay of Pigs, spies and spying and the Cuban Missile crisis were ever present from the post WW II era until the fall of the USSR. Although I was always a pacifist and a “peacenik,” it is easy to appreciate the dynamics of the times.
Canada became my chosen refuge in 1968 because its government and military were committed to peacekeeping and peace building. It was also a country that achieved its independence from Brittan by earning it, and by negotiating for it gradually, without the need for revolution or civil war. I believe I was intrinsically Canadian from birth and just had to wait for the right time in life to discover my true homeland.
This year, two men in Canadian uniforms were taken in two acts of violence by individuals provoked by a twisted sense for right and wrong. These two events happened in the same week less than month ago. One of the men was run down by a mad man behind the wheel of a car, and the other was shot in the back as he was standing as an unarmed honour guard at the same monument that was the focus of today’s ceremonies. The same individual who committed the horrific and cowardly act of assassinating a young unarmed reservist, then went into our parliament buildings with the intent to commit further mayhem and destruction. Fortunately he was prevented from doing so. The events of that fateful week evoked a deep emotional response to this year’s Remembrance Day events in all Canadians.
My thoughts then wondered to my father, and his role as a medic in the 308th Tank Destroyer Battalion. This year those thoughts and feelings were substantially enhanced by this summer’s experiences. Travel to Western Europe brought me into close contact with the consequences of war. Visits to the battlefields of Normandy, Ypres, the Ardennes and Waterloo, and the museums, monuments and cemeteries related to those battlegrounds were intensely moving. In the Ardennes, the memorial to the American forces involved in the Battle of the Bulge, was particularly meaningful, since my father was involved in that theater of battle.
On the occasion of this visit to the Ardennes, we were stayed in Luxembourg where my father sustained a wound in the line of duty. Fortunately for me it was a minor wound to the earlobe, but a bit further to the left and I might not have been, and a few inches to the right he wouldn’t have received a Purple Heart. What really got to me was seeing the streets of Luxembourg today and thinking back to the old black and white photographs of that war torn city when he was there. I was able to imagine myself in the same local were he went into harms way to help wounded men and were he received his own wound.
I am a pacifist and a “peacenik” but I have only pride and admiration for those Canadians, and indeed those Americans, who voluntarily chose a military lifestyle. There commitment to duty in the defence of freedom and democracy (as long as that is their credo) is to be admired, respected and supported. They are the reason I am free to be the unrepentant pacifist and “peacenik”. The military carries on the act of warring, but it is the government that must be judged based on the battles they choose to fight, and the reasons the choose to send men and women into harms war.
Yes, this has been a very moving Remembrance Day, even for a pacifist like myself. I wish for an era of peace where war is just a matter for the history books. I will speak of peace, and push for peace and argue for peace, until a world is at peace making such actions unnecessary.
As. always, you faithful blogger,
L Alan Weiss (Larry) – author of Through a Lens of Emptiness