Tuesday, November 11, 2014


During  Round 1 of the bicycle sit-ups, number twenty–six or so, to the accompaniment of CBC News,  I hear Brian Stewart and Peter Mansbridge reminisce about their fears around the eventual fate of the Remembrance Day Service at the National War Memorial.    I stop, sit up for real, and pay attention.  “No one will bother to show up at these events,”  Stewart recalls saying in the seventies.    Back then, Stewart continues,  organizers would “be lucky to get 1 000 people.”  Last year,  30 000 attended, more than 50 000 this year.  That was then; this is now. 

The world is a different place than it was in the seventies when the conversations Stewart and Mansbridge alluded to occurred.  World War I had ended sixty years before; one generation  had lived since the end of World War II .   Despite the Cold War, the War in Vietnam, and trouble spots in Central America and the Middle East, we indulged in the illusion that the world was a more peaceful place.  Besides, those conflicts did not touch us, Canadians.  They occurred in distant lands, and didn’t involve our own fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers.   Our military served in emergency relief or peace-keeping missions with the United Nations, with only an occasional casualty.   International conflicts did not involve us, a peace-loving and peace-keeping nation.

It is true, as Stewart and Mansbridge state, that the efforts of schools, volunteer organizations, and veterans’ groups have had a  “remarkable effect” on raising awareness of the significance of Remembrance Day.    More critical than those efforts, though, in my view, has been the rise of terrorism metamorphosed into unmitigated evil reminiscent of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the Rwandan genocide.   We learn of rampant, large scale murder, public beheadings, kidnappings, and, just yesterday, the senseless killing of 48 Nigerian students by a suicide bomber pretending to be a student in that school.   The murder of innocents.

No longer is the violence restricted to other lands, either.  The irrationality infiltrated through the tributaries of the Internet has polluted vulnerable consumers and resulted in the killing of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in a parking lot and Corporal  Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial,  as well as the invasion of Parliament.  In the assassinations of a few weeks ago, the chilling reality of the flag-draped caskets of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan on the tarmack  and along the Highway of Heroes has become even more immediate.

My uncle, Lucien Guay
In the past, Remembrance Day was a remote connection.  For me, it meant thinking about two uncles whom I never knew who died during World War II.  My mother, consumed with grief still each Remembrance Day over the loss of her younger brothers, could not bring herself to watch the service on television.   For my own children, though, remembering was even more distant—photographs, stories, documentaries, about important people and important issues, yes, but devoid of direct connection.  Gratitude for the enormity of the sacrifice always the overarching theme, still our memories were once, and twice, removed.

Now, remembering is different.   It’s not longer remote.  As a nation, we hold in our hearts fresh memories of lost mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, nephews, nieces, cousins.   The violence touches us now:  our families, a small city, a symbol of our national identity.   In my view, that’s why Canadians attended Remembrance Day services in such large numbers today, “numbers not seen in our time,” in Stewart’s words.  Now, with a clarity that was not before possible for the post-war generation, we understand what the sacrifice means.

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