I'm not a fan of war. This is nothing controversial; if someone were to admit to being a fan of war, they'd be dismissed as a sadistic sociopath. Yet, if I say that I am not a fan of Remembrance Day, I'm in danger of making myself out to be an idiot at best. Why is this?
Well, wars cause suffering and results in massive amounts of lost lives, limbs, and livelihoods. Hence, wars are regrettable. The soldiers themselves, on the other hand, are brave and sacrificial. Therefore, they are noble and to be respected. To disagree is to defile their memory and once we forget their sacrifices, we forget the horrors of war. If we forget the horrors of war, we will rush into another one. This is the rhetoric.
Never mind the fact that we can apparently remember very well, and rush headlong into wars regardless. Has everyone forgotten that there can't be a war without people to fight it? The soldiers are the ones that do the killing and a good amount of the dying. What is noble and respectable about that?
Remembrance Day does not, it is claimed, glorify war, but I feel safe to say that I was not the only one who, as a kid, was inspired and motivated by it to march off and join the military. My plans changed and I didn't go, but even now, the ceremonies on November 11th seem sacrosanct; they're beautiful in an sentimental way. The pomp and solemn ceremony around the day, while mournful, also makes us proud of the people who engaged in battle.
Yet, they fought to defend us on foreign soil. In wars that usually didn't threaten us. Making unreasonable demands on the other side that prolonged the fighting. Strafe-bombing civilian targets. Nuking civilian targets. Abusing the human rights of POWs.
Not all soldiers do these things. Neither do I wish to condemn soldiers that believe they defend us from our enemies. It it because I wish no one to be condemned that I do not support war.
I agree that many of our soldiers were very courageous. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believed in, which is highly respectable. We need more courageous people in our world. I will remember this and I will strive for courage myself, but I will not seek to follow their example. Their bravery was misplaced, their trust bought through propaganda and placed into the untrustworthy hands of ambitious generals and expansionist national leaders. They were duped into committing atrocities that most people would never dream of condoning. And I do not respect what they chose to do. Their sacrifices were brave but tragic and in most, if not all, cases unnecessary.
And so, on November 11th, I remember the tragedies that destroyed so much. I thank God for the soldiers that came home safely and mourn those who didn't. I cannot remember with pride the wars we have engaged in and I cannot believe that soldiers are heroes simply by merit of being soldiers. War is not sacred. Courage does not excuse all other failures. And if we forget this, then we are in danger of making a lot more courageous dead people than we ever bargained for.
The German soldiers in the 1940s had courage. Few of them realized the extent of the atrocities being committed by the Reich. Most of them were average people, who meant well and believed the war was necessary. Would you be comfortable with Germans now saluting their dead war heroes? With praising their bravery? With expressing gratitude for their actions?
Do we have any right to be more proud of our wartime behaviour than they? A true hero would balk at being honoured by a people that has no intention of avoiding similar tragedies in the future. This would be hypocrisy and propaganda in the first degree.
We remember the tragedy of the dead. There is nothing inspiring about tragedy.
"When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise." Winston Churchill