Two minutes is a small sacrifice for 110,000 Canadians killed
I’m perilously close to being an official senior citizen of this country. But I was born after the two world wars. And I’m too young to remember the Korean War. The Boer War, at the turn of the last century, qualifies as ancient history. I do remember the war in Afghanistan of course.
Which means I can recall just158 deaths among the more than 110,000 that Canada has suffered in all its overseas wars.
We’re supposed to remember all of them on Nov. 11. But how do you do that? It starts with a poppy. The Royal Canadian Legion says that officially, they are free. It would like you to make a small donation, but it if you can’t, that’s OK. The Legion raises millions of dollars with its poppy campaign. According to the figures it makes public, it takes in less than a loonie for each poppy. Less than a loonie. That doesn’t seem like too high a price to remember more than 110,000 Canadians.
On Remembrance Day, there’s a big cer- emony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The Governor General (the commander-in-chief of Canada’s Armed Forces) is there. The prime minister too. Cabinet ministers. Foreign ambassadors and high commissioners. And in recent years, thousands of ordinary citizens have turned out to watch, and to applaud veterans who take part in a short parade.
There are smaller ceremonies all across the country. There are, after all, more than 6,000 war memorials in Canada. It’s a pity that on most days we walk past them without a second thought. I think you’d be surprised at your reaction if you did take a moment now and then to pause at a memorial. It can be quite emotional.
At the11th hour of the11th day of the11th month, two minutes of silence descends at the ceremonies. They can be a haunting two minutes. If you really try to remember. To consider all the lives lost in our wars. The sum of all those individual tragedies is almost impossible to calculate.
It’s worth two minutes of our time. But unless you’re at one of the Remembrance Day ceremonies, there isn’t much silence. Some businesses stop. Most don’t.
I’ve heard voices raised to make Nov.11a school holiday so students can get to Remembrance Day ceremonies. That would be a good idea if the kids actually went. I doubt they would. Keep them in school. Have a ceremony there. Teach them what the day is all about.
But it would be nice to teach them by example, as well.
We should stop at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Day. Stop everything for two minutes. Stop selling clothes and cosmetics. Stop trading stock. Stop talking on telephones. Stop driving cars. Just stop.
Clear your mind and think about 110,000 Canadians killed because their country asked them to take part in murderous brutality for what was said to be a just cause.
Save the debates about whether war is ever the right answer. Forget about the wisdom or foolishness that led to our wars.
Forget for two minutes right and wrong. Just think about the humanity. Healthy young people dying in mud, or drowning at sea, or blown to pieces on deafening battlefields. How scared they must have been.
We owe them something. Even those of us not yet born when they died, owe them something. They were Canadians. And so are we.
Two minutes. And less than a loonie. Lest we forget.
Mark Bulgutch teaches journalism at Ryerson University. He is the retired senior executive producer of CBC TV News and produced the National Remembrance Day ceremony from Ottawa for 17 years. His book is That’s Why I’m a Journalist.