Rememberance Day, 2012

Lest we forget . . .

Remembrance Day at the John McCrae House (birthplace, museum, & memorial) in Guelph, Ontario Canada. A detail shot of the "altar" of the memorial, with the complete poem "In Flander's Fields" & the line "LEST WE FORGET" inscribed on it. 2 Canadian remembrance day poppy pins & part of a wreath are visible. Image source: Wikipedia

I've published a variation of this post for the last few years. If it sounds familiar, you'll understand why. But remembering the past is what this post is about and as we approach this November 11, 2012, I am once again finding myself thinking about wars past, wars present, and sadly, the wars to come. Over the years, I've come to believe that we need to reflect on the horrors of war because we need to understand that it is something dreadful; something to be avoided at all costs; something to be engaged in only as a last resort. And when all else fails, to engage in with the understanding that it is awful and horrible that we may find an end as quickly as possible.

There's an episode from the original Star Trek series that fits well with war today. It's called "A Taste Of Armageddon". In that episode, Kirk and his team beam down to the planet Eminiar VII, a planet that is supposedly at war. Except that there are no bombs, no missiles, and no bullets. Computers fight the war and those people who have been killed in the conflict, willingly report to disintegration booths to be cleanly disposed of. This war has been going on for ages but because it is so clean and tidy, people have forgotten about the horrors of war, and so the war persists.

That's what the words "Lest We Forget" are all about. 

War in the 21st century, at least for those of us living in North America, has become far too sanitized. We watch remote controlled drones surgically neutralizing enemy targets from thousands of miles away. And while our men and women die in foreign conflicts few of us actually understand, our politicians want to isolate us from the horrors those men and women actually face. In 2006, Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, sought to ban the media from displaying images of flag-draped coffins as dead soldiers returned home.

Lest We Forget . . . 

By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, some 68,000,000 people had died. For anyone who thinks that might be a typo . . .  yes, that's 68 million people dead. More than 40 million were civillians.

The end of that war dragged on for months, ending in different parts of the world at different times. VE Day, or Victory in Europe day, was May 8, 1945. On August 6, 1945, the Americans dropped the first of two atomic bombs on the city of Hiroshima. The second was dropped three days later over Nagasaki on August 9. The Japanese surrendered a few days later, on August 15. The official signing of the documents that ended World War II took place on September 2, 1945 aboard the battleship USS Missouri. Many, many people were involved in the liberation of Europe against the Nazis and many more lives were lost before it all ended in August, including (lest we forget) many civillians.

While we tend to focus on what the Americans did there and the people America lost, other nations helped win that war as well. It was the Soviets who liberated Auschwitz, the Canadians led the raid on Dieppe, and so on. More than 12 millions allied soldiers lost their lives in WW2, just under 300,000 of those American. The Soviets and Chinese accounted for close to 85% of the deaths. There was also, of course, the Holocaust, which took the lives of nearly 6 million Jews. Everyone paid the price in that awful time.

Take a moment to check out this Wikipedia entry. The numbers are staggering.

1945 seems so long ago. I would not be born for another 15 years, and yet that time feels frighteningly close to me. Why care about those events of long ago, the younger readers might ask?

Well, I think George Santayana had it right when he said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Think of all those lives lost in that awful time and Santayana's quote becomes a terrible warning against forgetting. Throughout the world, the kind of ideals and politics that led to the second world war and the atrocities that accompanied it, are on the rise. Lest we forget is a quote we see on cenotaphs throughout the world. That too is a warning against ignoring the past. It's also a plea to remember those who gave their lives so that people like me could write about it today.

Lest we forget the events of those terrible wars that somehow gave rise to the world we live in today. Lest we forget that the freedom we enjoy is also easily lost. It was long ago and far away, but the forces that tore our world apart aren't gone forever. If we forget, they will rise again and more good people will die. Many more.

I'd like to close this strange blog entry (strange for me) with a short poem by a gentleman named John McCrae, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor from Guelph, Ontario, who died in 1918, in another great war, the first World War. It seems somehow fitting to my discussion that people called it "the war to end all wars". Apparently, we hadn't learn the lessons of history well enough. McCrea penned what has become the anthem of rememberance in my country of Canada. The poppies we wear on Rememberance Day, on every November 11th, still blow across time.

In Flanders Fields (1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

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.

Lest We Forget.

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