Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget

Some of my readers may know that I spent a number of years in the Canadian Forces Reserves.  I never went overseas, but I know many who have, and regardless of how I feel about the politics of the conflicts, I continue to respect and honour those who serve.

So today, I feel it necessary to step aside from blogging about labour and employment issues, and address the message of Remembrance Day.

To my mind, the message has been convoluted in recent years.  "Support Our Troops" has become more of a statement about the politics of the conflict, rather than about support for the individuals on the ground.  There is a difference.  We have a volunteer army, who sign up to serve the country.  Few could criticize that sentiment, and so wherever that service takes them, we must continue to respect the individuals involved.

And yes, we must remember that for which they are serving.  Democracy.  Freedoms.  Rule of law.  Peace.  While I tend to think that it is disingenuous to think that Canadian democracy is really enhanced by what we do in many specific conflicts, it remains true that the integrity of our democracy is protected by the troops themselves.

But Remembrance Day is not a day of celebration.  It is not a day to praise our soldiers for winning wars and securing continued Canadian independence.  It is a day of solemn collective introspection, remembering the costs of war and honouring those who paid the ultimate price in service of their country.

War is hell.  That is what we learned in the first two world wars.  That is what we commemorate with Remembrance Day.  And if we ever start to think of war as anything other than hell, to be avoided unless absolutely necessary, then we do a disservice to all those brave young men (and women, now) who had to die before we learned that lesson.

It is generally acknowledged today that the First World War was not a noble conflict.  It was a war of politics, of rival powermongers seeking to establish dominance.  That does not stop us from recognizing the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers involved.  On both sides.  There are stories, likely myths, of men on both sides of No Man's Land coming together for brief moments of camaraderie - true or not, these stories remind us that the men in the other trenches were not evil.  And the fact that we can commemorate such an absurd war with such solemn respect for the soldiers involved in it proves that supporting the troops does not require that we support the war.

Dissent is not just a democratic right.  Dissent is a democratic duty.  If we believe that a conflict is wrong, or that we should not be involved in it, we have an obligation to be heard, and our respect for the soldiers enhances this obligation.  Our young men and women swear oaths to serve us as a country.  If we as a country proceed to send them into conflicts where they will be killed for no good reason at all, that is an insult to them, and to their oaths.

You may think, reading the above, that I am speaking of Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya.  I am not.  Please take these comments in a more general sense.  People protesting against military conflicts need to remember not to personalize the conflicts to the soldiers involved.  And others need to remember that a protest against the war is not inherently a personal attack against the soldiers, nor is it unpatriotic.  We, as citizens of a democratic country, need to be able to have these conversations without deteriorating into personal attacks against anyone.  Otherwise, what is it that our soldiers are protecting?

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