Every November, millions of Canadians pin on poppies. You see them on every celebrity, every politician, and every news person. We talk about war and remembrance and those who sacrificed. Some of us get a holiday on the 11th, but many don't go to a Remembrance service. Some don't get time off work. Many workplaces don't even observe the moment of silence. And once we hit noon on Remembrance Day, the poppies are sitting on monuments or, most often, stuck into car visors or mirrors, forgotten until next year.
The 11th was named Remembrance Day for a reason. The name was chosen to remind Canadians that we must remember the sacrifices our Veterans make for us. It was also named to remind us to remember the obligations we have to those who serve -- an obligation our Government is working hard to deny.
Currently, a group of Veterans are suing Canada for failing them. What is most significant about the case, the thing which has massive implications, is the Crown defence: Government is arguing that Canada has no obligation to provide for Veterans.
In April 1917, prior to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Prime Minister Robert Borden said:
"You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government I give you this assurance: That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done.
"The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home... that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died."
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae reminds us:
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
That position has held for almost 100 years -- that Canadians, and their Governments, feel this obligation to those who serve us. Until this year, when the Attorney General of Canada argued, "there is no positive obligation on the government to provide benefits." (p46, 40-42). Clearly, our current Government believes this to be true -- it is appealing the ruling against them and using the same argument. The Royal Canadian Legion's called this "reprehensible" and reactions from Veterans themselves were probably less polite.
Canadians feel the obligation. Just look at the all Support Our Troops ribbons and the red shirts. Look at all the poppies. Look at all the people who have signed petitions saying so. But Government doesn't want to be obligated; it also argued that it take money out of Veterans' pockets whenever it wants. (p. 57, 7-11)
So no wonder the Veterans Affairs Minister wants us to focus on "acts of remembrance." He goes on at length about these 'acts': laying wreaths, being silent, pausing on the street. He doesn't actually discuss remembering, only acts -- well in keeping for a Government which declares its support for Veterans while downsizing their services.
Minister, Remembrance Day is more than saying "We Will Remember Them" -- You actually need to do it. When you look at a poppy, when you stand at cenotaphs and memorials, when you say those words: REMEMBER.
Remember those who died in combat. Remember those who died as a result of combat, including those who suicide because they cannot erase the memories of what they witnessed. Remember those who died on peacekeeping missions, because keeping the peace is not a peaceful activity. Remember those who died in training, learning the skills they might need. Remember those who died here at home, giving their lives so others might live.
Remember also the wounded, those who gave body and mind to Canada, those who will never be the same because of their service. Remember what our troops do here at home: search and rescue, the Calgary Flood, the Quebec Ice Storm, the forest fires, floods, hurricanes, disasters; you can get just as hurt falling from an ice-covered electrical tower as you can in a truck-crash in Afghanistan. Remember the mental injuries our troops have suffered at home through events like the SwissAir crash and plucking bodies and body-parts from the sea.
Remember, too, our reliance on those who serve our nation. Remember that we depend on Them to be there when things go horribly wrong. When we get lost in wilderness, when we are buried by snow, when we are floating in the sea, we expect Them to come and save us. When disasters strike our communities, when our houses are destroyed, when we have no food, water, power, that is when we expect Them to charge to the rescue. And when enemies threaten our country, we rest assured that They stand between us and danger. They gladly give body, mind, and life to ensure that we are safe.
Remember what that means. Remember that they sacrifice for us and we are obligated to them for it. They give, so must we. It is a sacred obligation, this agreement between a military and their nation.
Remember all those who have sacrificed, all of their families, and wonder how they are doing. Are they in poverty? Living on the streets and in the woods, forgotten? Are they struggling to raise a family on pension amount less than welfare? Are families of the Fallen still fighting for answers years after their deaths? Are they still trying to get the benefits we owe them, to compensate for having given Canada their spouse or parent? Remember to help those who need us, now.
Remembrance Day is not wear-a-poppy-see-a-parade-and-go-home. Remembrance Day is not about photo ops for politicians. Remembrance Day is not staring at a statue. It is not just for trying to envision the mud and bombs of The Great War. It is not just for remembering the threats posed by other nations and imagining the horrors of conflict. It is not just for saying thank-you to a Veteran, while being glad that you never had to go in their place. Remembrance Day is not just a ceremony, to participate in once a year, and then forget... except when you look at the poppy in the car visor.
No, Remembrance Day is not about that.
Remembrance Day is for REMEMBERING. Remembering all those things that Veterans give for us. Remembering all the loss and privations they endure, just to stand on guard for we. Remembering all the pain and suffering they take from us. Remembering all the broken bodies, broken minds, broken lives, broken families, and the deaths. It is also for remembering that we must do all that we can to care for those who suffer on our behalf.
Remembrance doesn't end on the 11th. Remembrance Day is to remind us that we must always remember.
Lest We Forget.