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.

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