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LETTER: ‘Lest We Forget’

People gathered at the National War Memorial in St. John's left their poppies pinned to two crosses at the end of the Remembrance Day ceremony.
File photo

I am “those people” seen by Don Cherry. As an immigrant from the 1960s, I dutifully donned a poppy every November. 

My changed attitude started when listening to a mayor in the Netherlands speaking at the May equivalent of Remembrance Day. Generally a lament “Lest We Forget,” as he spanned the globe since the Second World War, and pointed to atrocities everywhere.

More recently I have not donned a poppy on my lapel, but never taken the time to explain why.

The first reason is a belief that we should forget. We should forget the sacrifices of brave men protecting our way of life.

Having raised your ire, allow me some context to the foul sounding statement.

After Armistice the concept of Remembrance was not to honour fallen soldiers, but learn a lesson “Lest we forget”… the horrors of war and not repeat history. First World War atrocities such as mustard gas, and battles where foot soldiers were used as cannon fodder, must have shocked enough people about the inhumanity of war.

How then did it morph into the sacrifice of heroes?

Accepting the peacenik label now assigned, let me be clear: I will support our troops. I will support our troops by objecting to every call for their deployment in war zones as combatants. I will support any program to assist veterans integrate into the non-military workplace.  I will support any program offering financial support to veterans suffering battle scars, physical and emotional.

The poppy drive in November supports veterans, but only symbolically. 

Real impacts come from Veterans Affairs, but that uses tax-payer funds. Even if we don’t begrudge the veterans, we complain about paying the added taxes every year. Strangely enough 90 per cent of the population benefits from a progressive taxation system, but 99 per cent likely disagree on “their fair share” of the burden.   

In a meeting in 2003, a distressed member of the group complained bitterly that our prime minister Jean Chretien would not join the “Coalition of the Willing.” The reason, his business in the U.S. was suffering from negative reactions from clients. My sin on that occasion was not calling him out during the session. This does play into the ease of “supporting” a cause when you don’t have friend or family sacrificed to Ares, the god of war.

Hundreds of statues and memorials across the globe were built in recognition of historical military victories.

To remember sacrifice? I don’t think so. It is merely lauding over the vanquished.

Northern Irish still celebrate the Glorious 12th, remembering the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Balkans “memorials” go back the start of the last millennium.

Do we need to keep “remembering?”

Once again, it depends on when you see history starting and whether you identify with victor or vanquished.

It does help recruitment for combat roles. You will be honoured when you die for your country.

Clearly, ISIS and Al Qaeda use the persecution card for recruitment.

Through my career, I had the privilege meeting some senior military personnel. The most surprising encounter was with a retired admiral completely changed my biased opinion of a hawkish U.S. military. The senior generals and admirals work hard at not sending their troops into conflict, but were obligated to follow orders from the political class.

Sadly, the political class with high-minded rhetoric, will still use trite slogans to battle the vicious bogeyman created by a previous narrative. “Get them there, before they get us here!”

Look at the poppies on lapels but remember the “horrors” of war, and not just sacrifice.

War is very ugly. Heroic tales are for Hollywood and recruitment.

We cannot identify with the plight of people in places like Syria, where the majority just want to live their lives, but are forced to take or suffer the consequences. Syria is just the most visible of scores of conflicts across this Earth.

It’s much easier to wear a poppy and turn a blind eye to these horrors far away, than to research what the poppy signifies.

Ken Barrie,
Calgary, Alta.


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