Lest We Forget.
160 million people have died in wars in the 20th century of which nearly 100,000 were Canadian (0.0625%). Many more were injured or crippled and suffered continuing emotional distress. In a New York Times article ‘What Every Person Should Know About War’, one can find the grim statistics.
Lest we forget, war is an insane approach to resolving conflict that the remembrance of casualties does not always bring us back to.
In Canada, as in other countries, young men, and increasingly, young women, sign up out of loyalty to their country, respect for its military that stands on guard for it, and their trust in the judgement of its political leaders. Many have given their lives in the service of their country.
Others who we have called ‘the enemy’ have done the same and in general, the Canadian military has been a far safer place to be than in the opposing forces. Canadian officers speak in terms of 100:1 kill ratios for Canadian troops in Afghanistan [ref. Toronto Globe & Mail ‘The Wins are Fading’] which translates into well over 10,000 Afghani (Taliban, etc.) dead, not to mention injured and crippled, correlating with 159 Canadians dead, 2000 injured plus many with emotional wounds, from the ten year Canadian military presence in Afghanistan.
“More than 150 soldiers were killed and 2,000 wounded, many of them disabled for life; at least $18-billion was spent, perhaps double that, if the costs of replacing a worn-out army and caring for the mentally and physically shattered and their families are counted. … “I won’t show you the messy bits,” Gen. Leslie used to tell audiences. That sort of effective soldiering was repeated hundreds and hundreds of times, mostly hidden from and unknown to ordinary Canadians.” – Globe & Mail
Lest we forget, the toll of human tragedy from war is not only being mourned on the side of one’s military allies. Over the course of the 20th century, the massive United States military has had a kill ratio of 10 to 20, so that those unfortunates that follow their political leaders into conflict against the United States, Canada and allies, are even more liable than our soldiers and their families have been, to having young lives cut down before their time. So, in mourning and paying our respects to those who gave their lives and limbs in the service of our country, it seems important not to forget the entire context of war and it’s horrifically tragic fallout, and to use that to fuel a resolve to transform our ways of dealing with conflict.
My first exposure to an injured ‘war veteran’ was my uncle Tony, a veteran of the Great War (1914 – 1918) who died ill, at home, from respiratory ailments from having twice been mustard gassed as well as buried alive in the trenches during shelling onslaughts. For him, war was made by politicians and people were foolish to keep having children that politicians and generals were continuing to use as ‘cannon fodder’.
The apothegms “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels” and ‘All wars are civil wars’ have continued to reverberate. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) that brought uncle Tony’s war to closure was imposed in a climate of open acknowledgement that its punitive terms would induce another war, as innocent German infants of 1919 grew up in a sea of contempt and punitive treatment from their neighbours; i.e. Hitler and Nazism were in no way the ‘root’ cause of WWII since Hitler and Nazism were the produce of a European social soil conditioned by ongoing cycles of war and retribution. Similarly, 9/11 has been described as not ‘out of the blue’ but as ‘Chickens coming home to roost’; the reaction from longstanding colonial domination/oppression abroad, allegations spoken most loudly by the indigenous peoples of North America who have themselves felt dominated and oppressed by internal programs of ‘cultural genocide’. It is not so simple as ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ as the law courts see it, because present actions are the culmination of long-standing [troubled] social relations.
Lest we forget, every nation is feeling loss and no-one knows, on their own, how to ‘get it together’. When we open our hearts to caring for the loss of loved ones, if we include in our caring the little one’s still waiting ‘in the earth’ for their turn, seven generations out, we must interrogate the harmonies/dissonances in our own motives, in drawing on the sacred trust, loyalty and courage of youth, that puts them in harm’s way to secure the outcomes that we desire.