In my naive teens I recall watching the national Remembrance Day ceremonies and television and wondering about the frailty of our Silver Cross mothers and dared to assume that there would be a time when we would not have one to visit the cenotaph on these cold November mornings. Time has nudged aside the notion that we have had or may ever have a war to end all wars and the commemoration is one that has gained solemnity as the veterans include in their number those younger than I am.
Seven years ago, I missed the ceremony for a medical check up with my son to see how he was coming along after 83 hours of life. He has attended a few ceremonies since then without "getting it," but this week he has come home brimming with stories of hardship amongst those who lived through the 20th Century wars that are fading toward the rear horizon.
Today, though, war is remote from our imagination and reality. Not only past wars, but current ones have little place in our daily thoughts. Canadians presume today that there are no soldiers or peacekeepers in harm's way and needing to be vigilant rather than solemnly reflecting as the minute hand reaches 11:11am today. Our affluence and the division of labour that allows us to send fewer and fewer soldiers into action - for it is technology and not peace that has allowed us to send fewer troops - has altered our definition of heroism and has allowed us disparate lives that make the possibility of collective cause more remote than our ancestors could imagine. There are available and urgent collective causes today, but we are somehow unable or unwilling to rally ourselves to them and make the sacrifices that ancestors made.
Despite recent history, there is still a sense that the World Wars are the ones to commemorate and that subsequent wars, police actions or battles are afterthoughts. This is due, in part, to the milestone anniversaries and the respective commemorations of the sacred spaces that have been made of European battlegrounds. Despite our default to say "the war" to refer merely to World War I or World War II, war remains a part of our currently reality and not just a distant reminder. While we acknowledge this with solemnity, bowed heads and a rendition of "O Canada" that finds its way to a muted, minor key, we know little of the commitment and the hardships that contemporary soldiers and their families make on the modern battlefield and on the home front as well.
Over the course of the 20th Century and into our own, there has been diminishing commitment to war. We know from recent experience that the calculations have indicated the expense and loss of war is a futile expenditure. The promise of peace is enticing but it is a deft deployment of deception and platitudes to lure us to the battlefields time and again. Can we ever stop falling for it? We can only hope, but there is a likelihood that we will be rally to defend ourselves or taken on a guardianship that ought to prompt a more humane and generous response than the mobilization of munitions and kevlar. Today, as daughters as well are fighting and dying on the battlefields, we must not only remember but reflect upon what the future holds for us and determine what we wish to do to shape it. The challenges ahead are massive and the response that we reflect upon today - war - will likely exacerbate situations and squander our resources, our young and our humanity rather than bring about the resolution we aspire to. As we reflect on the complexity of our times and acknowledge that right answers are elusive and illusory, we strive for the compromises and sacrifices that will ensure that we stand solemnly with the realization that peace is premised on seeking what is right rather than striving to merely and exclusively have our way.