Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Laurence Binyon's words, echoing:

They shall not grow old
as we that are left grow old

I am too young to remember those who died in the two World Wars. I remember--remembrance.

Somehow from the timeless time of memory we are to draw lessons. There is more here than mere graveyard respect.

I remember the war in Vietnam, another one of those bloody unequal contests, the bodies of peasants against the latest in kill technology, bodies cut to pieces with flechette guns and Lazy Dogs, bodies seared with napalm and white phosphorus, bodies poisoned for generations to come with Agent Orange, bodies...two million of them, all ages, and I didn't know a single one.

There is no Vietnam Wall for them. There were too many. Some of us, students at the time, attended the Cenotaph in Ottawa during the height of the carnage, with our signs reading "Every Day Is Remembrance Day in Vietnam." A single veteran wrote to the papers to congratulate us. But most were angry. The crowd around us seethed. As though we were demonstrating against the ceremony. As though memory had no connection to the present. As though there were no living lessons to be drawn after all.

Now memory is, at least for some, the Afghanistan mission, not the troops who have died trying to fulfill it. They honour the dead and they Support Our Troops and they wear red on Fridays and they sneer at those who oppose the war and they imagine that Remembrance Day consecrates that war as well as those who have died, in this conflict and in the ones that have ended.

They have learned nothing--nothing whatsoever--from Remembrance Day. They are putting words in the mouths of the dead.

For me the day is to honour those dead, not the causes for which they fought either willingly or unwillingly. I believe that the Second World War was one of the few worth fighting, while the First World War was a mass slaughter of working people to no purpose whatsoever, people who exchanged Christmas gifts in the no-man's-land between the trenches when they got the chance.

But all that's irrelevant. They were killed while engaged in an activity that is intended by its very nature to kill. Some may have had their lives taken "for" something, some may have simply done what they were told, but the only thing we know for certain about every single one of them is that they died miserably, of wounds, fatigue, cold or disease.

This day has its lessons. Would that all of us might learn them, and by doing so, truly honour those whom we struggle to remember, those whom most of us never knew.

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