Our Duty on D-Day

peace doveI wish I could’ve enjoyed the D-Day Anniversary ceremonies yesterday. I wish I could’ve felt a sort of peace and comfort from them. I would’ve even settled for a proud sense of patriotism. But as a (relatively) young pacifist who values our next generation, I gleaned very little from the speeches and addresses made yesterday. I feel the same way every Remembrance Day.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m grateful for the sacrifices made 70 years ago so that I don’t live under Nazi occupation today. As one who would have certainly ended up sweating in a concentration camp with a pink triangle on my arm —if I was lucky— I’m very grateful. But for me these ceremonies always seem lacking, incomplete.

Yes, the Second World War was awful and tragic in the deepest and broadest possible ways. But in the events of yesterday the focus was entirely on the past, on remembering, and there was little mention of the future.

Yet there was a perfect opportunity for dialog and agreement across generations. A pair of veterans recited the pledge of remembrance to their fallen comrades. Then a pair of young civilians, high school students, recited a version of it to the veterans. That was it, two pledges both made to the past. There was no promise made to those young high school students, no promise to them that everything would be done so that they or their children would never face World War Three.

Indeed, the message to younger Canadians from veterans, at least publically, is very different:

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.

When I read In Flanders Fields I like to think of “the foe” as violence itself, then the poem becomes quite life-affirming. But this is not the official interpretation. That goes something like, “We fought a war so you’d better be prepared to as well or we’ll haunt you from the grave!”

If I had choreographed the events of yesterday, I would have had those young people make their pledge to remember, but then I would have had those veterans —or better yet our Prime Minister— make a pledge to those high school students. And it would have gone something like this:

“Remembrance, though vitally important, is only half our duty. As we stand here today between a venerable past and a vulnerable future, the other half of our duty must be a promise, a promise that no generation need ever face the inhuman horrors of war again. Today we take actions in the form of ceremony and pageantry in order to remember and honour the past. We take these actions to make our remembrance meaningful. But we must act as well if we are to make our promise to the future meaningful. Indeed, taking action to guarantee peace is by far the greatest honour we can bestow on generations past, present, and future. Those actions may not succeed. We may fail in our quarrel with the foe of violence. We may stumble and fall while holding high the torch of peace and liberty thrown to us from generations past. But it is our duty —today— to make our very best effort. We will make that effort. I will make that effort. That is my pledge, my promise, to you.”

But no one listens to me. I never fought a war.

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