It's Remembrance Day here in Canuckistan. Now, I never know how much people from other countries know about each other's holidays (for example, I had no idea till recently that the U.S. and Canada* are the only countries that celebrate Halloween; get ON that, people!), so for those of you who don't know, Remembrance Day is when we remember our fallen soldiers from past wars.
There are usually parades in almost every community, leading to the local cenotaph where wreaths are laid, and there's at least one bagpiper doing his or her thing. The phrase "Lest we forget" gets bandied about a fair bit.
As a young Brownie, then later a Girl Guide, I was always involved in these parades, and something I've noticed since then is that the number of former soldiers in attendance is diminishing every year. And those that remain are very old.
Remembrance Day is an interesting holiday, in that it forces one to wonder if it has a shelf life. Canada kicked ass in the First and Second World Wars, but our representation in the global warfare scene slowed down after that. We didn't have official troops in Vietnam. We did have troops in the first Gulf War, though not the second. Which kind of leads me to wonder if the idea of remembering fallen soldiers will someday seem rather antiquated, or merely theoretical, to Canadian kids in the future.
I'm one of those people who comes by most of their learnin' incidentally, through novels, so most of what I know about warfare comes from literature. I have to confess, though, that a lot of the literature of war I find somewhat inaccessible. Much as I love Hemingway, for example, Farewell to Arms is not even front of mind if you were to ask me to list his novels. I've never finished Catch-22, though I've started it a few times. And I've read Pat Barker's Regeneration and its sequel, The Ghost Road, with little impression left by either. This says more about me than it does about these books, I'm sure.
I tend to do better, for some reason, with stories about innocent bystanders caught up in conflicts they had no part in starting. I loved Captain Corelli's Mandolin, for example, as I've loved all of Louis de Berniere's novels; he captures the absurdity of politics and war with as much dark humour as pathos. Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is an amazing story I've read countless times. Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, almost broke my heart, it was that good. And The Diary of Anne Frank should be required reading for everyone. In the world. Period.
I don't know how I feel about war itself. It strikes me that it's impossible to have a blanket position on the matter, no matter what factions on the right and left want us to believe. (My local video store clerk tells me that wars are all government-engineered money-making schemes. He has literature to prove this. It would be easier to entertain his theories if I weren't so distracted by the flecks of froth around his mouth.) Some wars are probably necessary. Others are not. It's probably a sad truth that we're only able to tell the difference after the fact.
On that vague note, I'll leave you with a poem, probably the only poem that's taught to Canadian schoolchildren that we actually end up remembering. It's by a Canadian soldier named John McCrae, who wrote it during the First World War.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
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.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
*ETA: And Ireland! Mea culpa!