I’ve never much liked Remembrance Day.
In my younger days, I loathed it as mere propaganda that is an insult to the millions of people it commemorates.
But most objectionable are the half-truths, dishonesty, lies, clichés and euphemisms that arise every November.
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War in 1914.
The provincial government announced this week it will hold a four-year commemoration, from 2014-18.
The Rooms announced it will have an extended campaign of exhibits and events called “Where Once They Stood We Stand.” A famous soldier, retired general Rick Hillier, is a co-chairman of the campaign.
Hillier told the media that the campaign commemorates the province’s role in the First World War and the legacy of those who fought in it, including at the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.
It is the buzzwords that make Remembrance Day less than what it should be.
What exactly do we commemorate? Usually, things like “service” and “sacrifice.” Too often, someone will use one of the most obnoxious euphemisms ever invented, “the supreme sacrifice.”
It is a sad day. Solemnity is expected and deserved, such as during the traditional minute of silence.
But I’ve always thought, and still think, that an essential component that is missing is anger.
These days, anger is an emotion that’s discouraged (control yourself; keep your cool; grow up; etc.)
But how can you think about, or talk about, the deaths of millions of people without anger?
On Remembrance Day, we do it by referring to service, to sacrifice, to legacies.
Both of my grandfathers fought in the First World War — one for the British Army, the other for the Italian army. When I was a boy, I was relieved when I learned Italy was on Canada’s side in that one.
With all due respect to them both, I don’t want their legacy — nor do I want it for my sons, nor for any grandchildren or descendants that may come.
Theirs was a time and a culture of obedience. When God, king or country called, young men obeyed.
Of course, obedience is still a strong force in our society. The word has unsavoury connotations in this context, so on Remembrance Day it is not used, but is replaced by such words as “duty,” “service” and “loyalty.”
This is not to dishonour veterans, or to question their courage, or to criticize their actions.
On the contrary, it recognizes their history, their life and their experience.
A greater dishonour is done to veterans by using clichés and euphemisms.
The First World War had nothing to do with freedom or democracy. It was all about politics and alliances. Some will scoff, “Every war is about politics.”
Fighting and dying for freedom and democracy would be one thing, but fighting and dying because of politics is another thing altogether.
In terms of the First World War, when I hear or read “sacrifice,” I interpret it as “a needless death” or “a wasted life.”
Should our grandfathers have gone to that war? Their answer, obviously, was yes. But from our vantage point, with what we know now, the answer has to be no. To cite an oft-repeated phrase, there is nothing heroic or glorious — or legacy-building — about young men dying in mud.
The provincial government and The Rooms want young people to learn about the Great War. Here is
a suggestion for teachers. This Remembrance Day, or any other, go on YouTube and look up Australian folksinger Eric Bogle. Turn up the volume on the class computer, and play his song, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” It should spur the kids into a lively discussion.
Brian Jones is a desk editor
at The Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com