Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembering the Nightmare
Honouring the Sacrifice
Today is November 11 which in Canada is Remembrance Day. Today and the week before lots of us Canadians go around wearing red poppies with black centres.

The red colour of the poppy's petals symbolizes the blood shed and the sacrifice made by the members of our armed forces during all the wars that Canada has been involved with more especially the First World War.The black is the colour of loss and mourning for all those young Canadians who have died in war.
Unlike many other countries Canadians are not terribly gun-ho about our efforts in wartime, which is generally viewed has a distasteful if honourable duty.
The fact that the greatest blood letting for Canada was during the First World war, a war generally characterized in memory has futile, extraordinarily wasteful has not helped to lesson Canadian distaste for war. The First World War whose 100th anniversary is less than two years away also ushered in an age of brutal bloodletting for a generation.
Canada in  1914 had a population of c. 7,900,000. Canada suffered during the war c. 65,000 dead which proportionally was much greater than the losses suffered by the U.S. in the First or Second World war.1
The result of this memory of a war that was basically a horrible barbaric and largely fruitless mess is that Remembrance Day always has a melancholy edge. Certainly the fact that the war most clearly present in the minds of Canadians is that fruitless, never ending bloody stalemate on the Western front of 1914-1918.
Thus victories that the Canadians were involved with like Vimy Ridge 1917 are not so much celebrated as commemorated because it is very hard to get over the feeling that World War I was futile and in the end pointless for all concerned.2
So today we commemorate, instead of celebrate, those who gave their lives.
Perhaps the best summing up of what Remembrance Day means is this poem that is taught in virtually all Canadian schools by the Canadian  Doctor, Poet and Soldier John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
  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.3
John McCrae died in January 1918 of disease while serving in the Canadian Expeditionary force in France.
1. See Wikipedia, Population of Canada Year by Year Here, Wikipedia, World War I Casualties Here. The United States with a population of c. 92,000,000 suffered c. 117,000 dead. During World War II Canada suffered c. 45,000 dead and the U.S. c. 418,000. Proportionally Canadian losses were slightly greater than U.S. losses in the Second World War. See Wikipedia, World War II Casualties Here.
2. See Berton, Pierre, Vimy, Pen and Sword Books, London, 2003.
3. Wikipedia, In Flanders Fields Here. I have replaced blow with grow in the first line. It's the line I was taught growing up.
Pierre Cloutier

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