Lt. John McCrae fought in World War I. World War I was also known as "the war to end all wars". The horrors of modern warfare caused a generation to seriously reconsider the implications of war and to renew their commitment to peace. Only a threat as horrifying as Hitler's Nazi movement could bring about another full-scale war as soon as two decades later. The goals there were clear: stop the Nazi occupation.
Every year when I see the poppies and read “In Flanders Fields” I can't help but wonder if we've missed the point entirely. What would John McCrae think if he could see how little we've learned about peace? Would he believe he and his fellow soldiers had fought and died in vain?
My country has abandoned its respected role as international peacekeeper in favour of supporting rampant greed. Our forces fight in a war that is more about oil and exploitation than human rights. Moreover, in sending our troops to fight in Afghanistan, we have enabled more US troops to fight in Iraq. While we have not dirtied our hands in that “illegal” war, our actions have supported it indirectly.
Along with these wars comes the war on the environment. An excellent article about this can be found here: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/time-to-end-war-against-the-earth-20101103-17dxt.html In our quest for eternal economic growth, we are destroying our very life support system. Our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels is leaving many of us hungry, homeless and desperate.
In essence, our actions as a nation and as a wider society have not been particularly peaceful in recent years.
I find at some Remembrance Day celebrations that the focus is less about peace and more about honouring veterans. We do tend to forget and take for granted these people who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs, some of which I share. We could do much better in providing support for these people and their families after they have served. Too often our governments use them for political purposes then forget them—toss them out with the trash so to speak when they're finished with them. But I have to admit that I am torn even on this point. How much support do I really have for those who willingly sign up to kill others in the name of oil? I only have to hope that their individual motives are somewhat more honourable than that, and remind myself that the policies of our government and attitudes and greed of the larger society are the true problems.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe”
Who exactly is the foe? Who is the enemy we face? So often we are lost in political agendas spurred on by corporate interest that we no longer clearly see what it is we are supposed to be fighting, what the goals are. How can we even know if we've won or lost? How do we know when to stop? What are we fighting for?
The worst Remembrance Day ceremonies I have seen are the ones that glorify war. War is legalized first-degree murder. No war has ever been fought that did not involve loss of civilian life. Some wars have been fought in the name of human rights and freedoms. Today our wars are fought for purposes of material gain. The economy is revered above life.
I think that if John McCrae were here today, he'd agree that most of us have missed the point.
So today, I honour all of those who have the courage to speak out and act for what is right, to listen to your hearts and never give up, no matter how hard it gets. Whether you are a soldier or diplomat, a caregiver, activist or educator, if you remain true to yourself and fight in your own way to make this a better world, you are my hero, and it is you who I will honour today.