I was told as a child that Remembrance Day is about honouring the veterans and how they fought for peace. Sadly I have come to learn that this is a convenient mythology told to us so we can feel better about our history and not truly learn from it. It helps to remember that the 20th century saw some of the worst human rights violations and large-scale wars in human history. Clearly we are not remembering enough and learning enough from our past.
Here is a short list of some of the things that we should be remembering, and I’m hoping you the reader will contribute to this list so that we can have a true accounting of Remembrance Day.
We should remember
- The wastage of millions of lives from both our side and the “other” side on world wars that were less about peace and more because of short-sighted thinking and imperialist foreign policies.
- The genocides in Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, China…and many nations where often our forefathers have contributed to the problem.
- That we know more about destroying countries than we do about building them so that fundamentalism does not take root.
What else do you think we should remember?
2 Replies to “Remembering More Than Myths on Remembrance Day”
I think we should remember that we are all human and that if we personally knew even one of the people who gets killed in war it would break our hearts. The only reason the wars can continue and that we can allow it is that most of us don’t know the individuals. Everyone who has travelled can probably agree that we set out with pre-judgments and myths about the culture we are about to visit that change dramatically when we actually get to know the people. We just need to change our minds about it being okay, but we ALL need to change our minds.
It’s funny how on Remembrance Day we honor veterans, give them our thanks and support for events of the past. It is certainly is a nice thing to do – soldiers who do not have the support of the people suffer terribly, as we see in Vietnam veterans. But when we thank our veterans for their actions, we are in effect thanking them for killing people. For destroying homes, livelihoods, killing children and creating orphans. We are giving them permission and justification for mass murder. We better be sure we are right to do so, to spotlight their actions every year!
Remembrance Day encourages future violence, by giving us an institutionalized support system for those who do violence on our behalf. I wonder sometimes how many veterans relive old traumas on Remembrance Day. Is this day doing them any good? Is it doing future generations any good? Obviously as compassionate human beings we want to see our veterans find the positive in life, to look forward, forgive, be forgiven, to find peace – but can we not do that better on a daily basis, through good living? Do we need a special day, every year, on the calendar? Obsession is never healthy, no matter how well-motivated.
I feel for our veterans. Many of them have nightmares every time they sleep, over things seen and done decades ago. Killing another human being is exceptionally difficult and traumatic, going against one of our deepest instincts. Killing another human being when you have the support and encouragement of your peers, is frighteningly easy. Even killing someone you know is not so hard, under the right conditioning. We are capable of great atrocities with enough support and encouragement, when we give ourselves to group thinking.
Remembrance Day, if we simply must have such a day, should be a day to remind ourselves that no war, no genocide, no mass-scale violence happens without the support of a very large number of people. It is a reminder of the dangers of tribalism, of group thinking that frees us from our normally decent moral compass, of fundamentalism and absolutism. Violence becomes possible when one person becomes closed to another; violence is guaranteed when a group of people become closed to another.
Here’s an idea: Remembrance Day should be about removing our support for war. Not about honoring the dead, or comforting the veterans – that we should do all the time as their family members, friends, and fellow citizens. There are times when violence is necessary, and we need to know when that is and support those who have to live through it. But let us not drag all their worst memories back to the surface every year. I know my relatives who lived through the war would rather forget that period than relive it. Let us instead ask ourselves how we are supporting present and future violence ourselves. If the goal of Remembrance Day is to prevent future war, then we need to do something with it besides show war movies, have parades, a minute of silence, and wear poppies. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back once a year for our good intentions and claim we did anything useful.