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Michael Moszczynski's Weblog
On Remembrance Day 11.XI.2012 10:41

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

--John McCrae

There's a solemnity to Remembrance Day that makes it to me one of the few public holidays worthy of its subject; the shared minute's silence of an entire nation echoes louder than the entire year's triumphant marches, rattling sabres and beating drums of war. The Vimy Memorial, a tribute to the fallen soldiers of the First World War, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful in the world. It features no triumphal arches, and the only sword it depicts is being broken on the ground. It shows the nation at war as it should be seen: not as a brave general leading his men into battle, but of a weeping mother mourning her sons.

The only proper emotional response to war is revulsion. Revulsion at its horrors, revulsion at the fates of its victims, and revulsion at its indisputable necessity. There is a tendency now to sanitise war - indeed, to sanitise death - in a way that makes it seem distant, that dehumanises the dead. This is why our strikes are 'surgical', our bombs are 'smart' - it is not a coincidence that the 'operating theatre' now shares its name with a room in a hospital. And when this is the way we wage war, we no longer weep, we no longer turn away in horror - we merely count the numbers, the deaths in a far away land, and return to our lives unaffected. It was this horror that united our soldiers with their victims - or our victims with their soldiers - and kept us, sometimes, from the brink. To remember our soldiers in a way that minimises the horrors of how they fought and how they died cheapens their sacrifice.

There is a dangerous conviction in some corners of the Western world that war is good for the soul, that of the nation and that of the soldier. That it is a display of power, that it can be entered it into lightly, that the homeland is enriched and purified by this spilling of blood and treasure, that to stay strong it must prey upon the weak. This is not only wrong, but it goes against the immense progress that we, as a race, have made away from the brutality of our past. War disfigures the soul, scars it in a way that often does not heal. We have an obligation to remember not only the dead but those individuals who bear those scars for us. To celebrate our soldiers as returning victors without mentioning the gas and the trenches and the jungles and the IEDs is to betray their memory as much as forgetting would be.

And what will be the nature of modern war? Now armies of drones fill our skies, raining destruction down from miles above - faceless men in faraway offices murdering faceless into whose eyes they will never have to look. And all such victims are now enemies just by virtue of being killed - any man of military age is declared a militant. And why not? After all, one of their 180 million compatriots shot a girl for the crime of demanding her right to education. Surely all these men must be our enemies! But we do not know if they are like the man who murdered her, or the man who helped raise his daughter to demand that right in the first place. In the past, it was our sacrifices that stayed the hand of our bloodlust - the tears of the widows and the orphans and the fathers and the daughters. What will happen when war has no more role for heroes - only bureaucrats and victims.

War is hell, and heroism is retaining ones humanity when surrounded by it. The most celebrated military figure in Canada, justly, is Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN forces during the Rwandan genocide, whose humanity left him haunted about his impotence in the face of wanton carnage. His antithesis are those now in the international community who are beating the drums of war to Iran, many of whom know nothing of war themselves, of the costs it will impose not on both the soldiers who are asked to die for some craven political purpose, and the inevitable victims who will not be asked anything at all, whose deaths will become mere statistics. To remember is a moral obligation, because to remember those who have fought and died in our wars is to remember the solemnity, sadness and regret that must be felt before we send men and women to fight and die for us again, lest we forget that there is no greater dishonour to a man's memory than to have needlessly sent him to his death.

Amman, Jordan Jo

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