The simple act of remembering gets harder every year.
Only one Canadian veteran of the First World War, John Babcock, now 109-years-old and living in the United States, survives. Each day another Second World War veteran dies. Most of Canada’s population today was born after the Korean War. Our connection to the roots of Remembrance Day, and the armistice signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month more than half a century ago, grow thinner with each passing year.
There are days the only reason Remembrance Day carries any relevance is that another Canadian died in Afghanistan.
In earlier years, Canadians built veterans up to be heroes; individuals who offered up their lives for God, King and country. We made them idols to a younger generation, trying desperately to recognize the sacrifice so many made in our name.
It seemed easier, somehow. Good and evil, black and white. There was a concrete belief that the veterans of earlier wars had made life better.
As the years have passed, those distinctions have blurred. Heroes have become human. As technology has made the world smaller, we’ve been forced to recognize that life was not better for everyone, because, for whatever we lost, some people lost more.
Veterans coming home from Afghanistan today are showing how bullet holes and shrapnel are not the only injuries a soldier faces. Their experiences are allowing us to rewrite history. Like generations of soldiers before them, many of today’s veterans have difficulty adjusting back into a life where not every stranger is trying to kill you and your nightmares explode. Unlike earlier generations, though, today’s veterans arrive home to little fanfare. The media, it seems, only pays attention to flag-draped caskets, not reunited families.
That puts a greater onus on the rest of us.
A massive gulf exists between 1918 and now. The world is simply a different place. It is hard to imagine a time where anyone honestly feared world domination; a place where one despot’s drive to rebuild an empire set everyone on edge. No matter what George Bush and Dick Cheney wanted the world to believe, Osama bin Laden is no Hitler. The “Free World” was never in peril.
Despite the difference 90 years makes, though, a truth remains: there are still people willing to lay down their lives because we ask them to. As a society Canada recognizes the need for armed forces; men and women who will do any task from rebuilding damaged bridges to putting themselves in the line of fire.
It seems only fair, then, that we pay heed to our obligation, acknowledge our responsibility for their actions, and remember their service.
Until the world can survive without these men and women, we owe them this simple Nov. 11 tribute.