It has been often observed that old men start wars and young men are sent off to fight them. For all the truth in that, it lets countless others — us — off the hook. It is nations — the governors and the governed — who send their young men and women off to fight, to kill or be killed.
The reality is that most of us born after 1945 don’t have a clue what being in a war is like; even soldiers’ stories are often draped in the compassionate veil of time.
It is those at home who drape the war in glory, triumph and patriotism. We bask in the reflected glory of battling barbarism, genocidal ambitions, repression and cruelty. We feel we, thousands of kilometres from what may pass for a front line, are part of the grand fight for freedom, democracy, eventual world peace, or even the right of young girls to go to school without having acid splashed on their faces.
Part of the enormous debt we recognize in Remembrance Day observances and ceremonies today is that Canada’s warriors fought far away so we didn’t have to fight at home. Whether the fight is against fascism or dictatorship or terrorism, soldiers go to fight in our stead.
Soldiers give what we civilians could not imagine losing: a part of their young lives, innocence, comrades with whom they shared a bond forged in the military experience. They lose limbs. They lose peace of mind, even their sanity. They lose their lives.
In return, they ask us to remember. A soldier’s greatest fear is that he or she will be forgotten. In Canada in the past decade, coinciding with the passing of the last of the veterans of the First World War and the increasing thinning of the ranks of Second World War and Korean War vets, there has been a resurgence of respect for Remembrance Day, the veterans it honours and the fallen it remembers. This is a very good thing.