If only we re­mem­bered ev­ery day

National Post (Latest Edition) - - EDITORIALS -

When the guns fell silent all along the West­ern Front 100 years ago, one hor­rific thing came to an end. Four years of grind­ing, bloody slaugh­ter were fi­nally con­cluded. A shat­tered con­ti­nent, lit­tered with ru­ined towns, bro­ken bod­ies and col­laps­ing em­pires, could fi­nally take stock of what had been gained and what had been lost.

The gains were few and far be­tween, but you could find them if you looked. As noted else­where in th­ese pages to­day, Canada was among the few coun­tries to at least ben­e­fit in one way from the war — our 60,000 dead were the hor­rific price we paid for our emer­gence onto the world stage as a more fully in­de­pen­dent na­tion. But it was the losses that loomed large. The war left mil­lions dead, mil­lions more maimed. An en­tire gen­er­a­tion was hol­lowed out, never to be re­placed. An era had ended.

With the ben­e­fit of his­tor­i­cal hind­sight, of course, we know that that end­ing was a new be­gin­ning. Th­ese new be­gin­nings were not all benign. The dev­as­ta­tion of the old or­der and the old em­pires un­leashed mas­sive changes across Eu­rope, Rus­sia and the Mid­dle East. To­tal­i­tar­ian ide­olo­gies, com­mu­nism and fas­cism, shaped the rest of the 20th cen­tury, and at hor­rific hu­man and ma­te­rial cost. It took an­other, even dead­lier war to bring some peace to Eu­rope. Rus­sia re­mains an eco­nomic back­wa­ter to­day, spend­ing ev­ery penny its cor­rup­tion-hob­bled econ­omy can gen­er­ate to sus­tain a faint echo of its for­mer mil­i­tary strength. The con­tin­u­ing chaos in the Mid­dle East needs no re­cap­ping here. His­tory mat­ters. Con­se­quences per­sist.

But one thing that has en­dured truly has left us bet­ter off. This Sun­day, across Canada and so many other spots around the world, peo­ple will gather at the 11th hour of the 11th day of No­vem­ber, in groups large and small, to re­mem­ber. Most of them will not be there to re­mem­ber an empire that fell or a politi­cian who ruled or even a bat­tle that was fought and won and lost. They will gather to re­mem­ber a per­son. Some­one that they loved and who loved them. A per­son who was, to them, some­one spe­cial: a spouse, a si­b­ling, a par­ent or a grand­par­ent.

Or per­haps some­one who was some­thing more, to all of us: a vet­eran.

Not ev­ery vet­eran has a hero story. Many served their time, in times of war or peace, hon­ourably and du­ti­fully, spared from the car­nage that war is most vividly known for. But they all ac­cepted the risks of that car­nage, and in Canada, vir­tu­ally ev­ery vet­eran alive to­day vol­un­teered for that risk. Of the 100 years since the end of the Great War, we have been for­tu­nate to have a more peace­ful and pros­per­ous lat­ter half than the for­mer. En­tire gen­er­a­tions have been raised in peace and plenty, and whole mil­i­tary ca­reers served with­out ma­jor con­flict.

Still, we hon­our them, all, even those who never di­rectly faced the en­emy. We hon­our those who served on the home front dur­ing con­flicts, work­ing on farms and in fac­to­ries to pro­vide the fight­ing men (and more re­cently, women) with the tools they needed to face the foe. We hon­our the fam­i­lies who never served, but suf­fered still, when some­one they love was ei­ther lost to war or de­stroyed by it, re­turned to them bro­ken, some­times ir­repara­bly.

Canada is a coun­try that knows lit­tle of its his­tory, and cares about it less. Our con­tin­ued ob­ser­vance of Re­mem­brance Day is a rare and wel­come ex­cep­tion to that sad re­al­ity. It serves in many ways as the sad coun­ter­weight to the cel­e­bra­tion that Cana­di­ans seek (and nor­mally find) on Canada Day, per­haps the only other day that unites us all. It is right that such a bal­ance ex­ists — that the care­free en­ter­tain­ment of a day in July is set against the solemn re­flec­tions of much colder days in the fall. A day of cel­e­brat­ing our free­dom is, in time, an­swered with a day when we re­call its price.

Sadly, the day of re­mem­brance is of­ten just that: one day. Cana­di­ans tol­er­ate ap­palling lev­els of ne­glect of our armed forces and vet­er­ans. Par­ti­sans al­ways ac­cuse those on the other side of caus­ing the prob­lem, but the fail­ure is more ba­sic. The mil­i­tary and vet­er­ans are of­ten ig­nored by politi­cians be­cause the pub­lic doesn’t care enough to be truly out­raged by it. A coun­try that cared as much for its fight­ing men and women ev­ery day of the year as it does on No­vem­ber 11th wouldn’t per­mit the forces to go with­out mod­ern equip­ment, or vet­er­ans to go with­out needed treat­ments and ser­vices for their bod­ily and spir­i­tual wounds. But we don’t. So the ne­glect per­sists.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Cana­di­ans in­tu­itively un­der­stand how much they owe the sol­dier, the sailor and the air­man. That’s why we gather to­gether each No­vem­ber 11th to give thanks and re­flect. That sense of grat­i­tude can and should ex­tend through­out the year. It re­mains a grim irony that it would be harder to ne­glect our mil­i­tary if it had not, when needed, done its job so well. A coun­try too used to peace does not rou­tinely re­call the sac­ri­fices of war. Not all peo­ples are so lucky with their his­tory. Not ev­ery coun­try can be so re­moved from dan­ger to of­ten for­get that dan­ger ever ex­isted.

But this week­end, we will re­call those hor­rors of war, and es­pe­cially those who en­dured them on Canada’s be­half. At the 11th hour, as we al­ways should at the set­ting of the sun, we will re­mem­ber them.



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