May 30, 2011

Reflections from a Canadian on Memorial Day

Day 150 of Vintage 365


"In peace", said the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, "sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons." These words, sobering and hauntingly true, were spoken in the 5th century B.C., and yet they could just as easily have passed through the lips or pen nib of a wise person today.

On this, Memorial Day in America, one pauses to reflect on those who have stood up for their country only to fall in battle. I adore many elements of history (be it 20th century or otherwise), but war is unequivocally not one of them.

{This vintage photo from the 1940s of a small boy wearing a grown man’s military coat and cap, is rich in dimensional meaning and symbolize, not only of WW2, but of all wars and the fragility of peace in anyone's lifetime. Image via kawkawpa on Flickr.}

There is nothing glamorous about war. It is not the the glitzy, uniforms-that-never-get-dirty world of certain Hollywood films, nor the "just point and kill" spectrum of comic book soldiers. Real war is horrific for everyone involved.

War knows no sides, plays no favourites. It's dark as a sun-less galaxy, more tormenting than any nightmare a person can have with their eyes closed.

I have no respect for war, but I do for those who have, when truly necessarily, gone to fight so that today I may know freedom. One of my great-grandfathers, as well as some of my great uncles fought for Canada in the second world war.

Those who came back, were never the same. How could they be, how on God's earth could anyone every stare war squarely in the eyes and return unshaken, unmoved, emotionally (and often physically) scared, a rearranged version of person they'd once been.

Though decades, like rings in the tree of time, have begun to distance society from WW1 and two, war still rages around the world, and we'd be naive to think that the possibility of another catastrophic world war was off the table for the rest of time.

Just as a solider rushing towards the frontline never knows what fate may deal him at the next moment, so too do none of us know for certain that peace will always be with us. Yet we can hope dearly that it will and work towards creating the type of society in which this thus far unachieved dream is finally realized.

I believe that one of the most poignant and important steps towards that goal is to never forget those who have fought, served, and fallen, giving the ultimate sacrifice of their very lives, for the world - however flawed it may still be in certain ways - that we know and treasure today.

Though I am not American, it would be impossible for me to let today slip past without pausing to remember - and thank - in the farthest reaches of my heart all those who have been lost in battle so that I could know freedom.

Join me, won't you, in a moment of silence and gratitude for everyone and their families, for whom Memorial Day is devoted.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. When I was younger, I idealized war because I only saw the Hollywood version of it. Now I know better. Thank you for articulating my feelings about today.

    I hate, hate, hate that Memorial Day has become just another party and shopping holiday. Our soldiers deserve better than that.