Remembrance Day reminds us of ties we have to blood spilt on our behalf in nations far away. A lot of us have personal connections to people who have served this country, or other countries, in lands far out of sight and mind.
My own history is tied to European conflicts. My mother’s parents immigrated to Canada at the outbreak of the first world war and my father came to Canada during the mass displacement of Eastern Europeans after the second world war.
Like a lot of people my age, I grew up with an easy relationship to the idea that war has often been necessary. But the generation of men and women that have first hand experience of a war so clearly defined in common memory as justified is soon to be lost to us. The last Canadian veteran of World War I, John Babcock died in 2010 at the age of 109, and there are only a handful of people alive in the world that have personal memories of serving in that conflict.
Veterans of World War II are aging as well. My father’s personal story went to the grave with him as have the stories of many others. Their experiences and memories live on in the hearts and minds of those that remember that our own lives, untouched by military conflict for most part, are separated from the horror of war by only a generation or so and maybe even only by a walk to a neighbour’s house.
Modern veterans continue to be made every day as military conflict throughout the world continues. Modern wars are not as clearly defined and universally backed by nations and their citizens as some historical conflicts were. I don’t know how the very young feel, but I imagine that it’s difficult for them to draw a strong connection between life in Canada now and sacrifices made, and still given, throughout the world.
Do recent veterans of modern conflicts enjoy the same respect we give to the more elderly members of past wars? The contemporary soldier’s involvement in a modern conflict is still motivated by what put men and women in harms way previously.
We are so close to these modern conflicts and battles that it is easy to become tied up in the politics and ideology that surround a conflict and to overlook the individual men and women that serve on our behalf.
I take Remembrance Day ceremonies as an opportunity to reconsider and reconnect with our deep and shared history tied to blood spilt in foreign lands. But that blood continues to be shed. The United Nations recognizes 12 ongoing international conflicts that each produce more than more than 1000 violent deaths per year. There are another close 30 smaller ongoing conflicts that taken together produce thousands of more deaths annually. In Canada 100,000 men and women serve in different roles through out the Canadian Forces.
As we gathered last weekend to remember past sacrifices I hope that we also considered the present and how privileged we are to live free of the violent struggles that continue to define the daily existence of many.