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Why Is Remembrance Day Important Essay

From the archives of Facts and Opinions, 2013-2016:

Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial in St. John’s, Newfoundland. © Greg Locke 2014


On November 11, 1918, the guns of World War I fell silent on the Western Front. The end of the Great War was, so many participants swore, surely  the end of all wars. That was, of course, hubris. Still, November 11 has become the day, in much of the world, to remember. Following are images from Remembrance Day events in 2014 on Canada’s West and East coasts, and links to readings about a momentous day whose many names — Remembrance Day, Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day, or Independence Day — reveal different approaches to war, peace, or progress toward political goals. Above all, however, November 11 is the day to pay homage to those who fought and died and suffered in warfare. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

— Greg Locke


Readings on Facts and Opinions:

Remembering War

by Greg Locke, photo-essay

I can’t do Remembrance Day anymore. Just don’t have it in me. I don’t mean it to be disrespectful. In fact, my respect is infinite. I have had relatives serve in the Canadian, British and American military going back to WWI. I’ve attended the National War Memorial in St John’s, Newfoundland with my father-in-law, a veteran of the Battle of Altona in Italy during WWII, and the rest of the old men many times. I have talked about war far too many times.

Why I prefer to remember Remembrance Day

By Tom Regan

We don’t have much of a tradition of military service in my family, but what we do have is meaningful. One of my uncles fought in the Second World War for Canada and saw some pretty serious action. My father-in-law, an American, was a lifetime aviator, and flew for the US Air Force in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. So I’ve always considered November 11th an important day to observe.  But when it comes to whether I celebrate Canada’s Remembrance Day, or America’s Veterans Day, I almost always prefer the former over the latter. The reason may be a semantic one but it’s an important one. … read more

A philosopher asks: what do we owe the dead?

By Janna Thompson

Remembrance Day is an occasion when people are supposed to remember and honour those who died in their nation’s wars. But why should we believe that this obligation exists? The dead are dead. They can’t be gratified by our remembrance or insulted by a failure to honour them. Those facts do not prevent us from thinking that we have duties to the dead. Most of us believe we ought to remember people who made sacrifices for our sake. Most of us believe we ought to keep promises made to the dead, to protect their reputations from malicious lies and to fulfil their bequests.  … read more

Private Milton E. Wallen of Company C, 1st Kentucky Cavalry, wounded by a Minié ball while in prison at Richmond, July 4, 1863. He was being treated for gangrene in August 1863 when Edward Stauch traveled from Washington to make this sketch. Wallen survived the infection and was furloughed from the hospital in October 1863. Image from the U.S. National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Body counts disguise true horror of what wars do to bodies.

By Tom Gregory

Every year on Remembrance Day, we pause to look back on old wars and recount the tallies of the dead, including 16 million killed in the first world war and 60 million in the second world war. And every day, news reports use body counts to highlight the human costs of war: from Syria, where the United Nations has estimated more than 191,000 people have been killed up to April this year, to Ukraine, where the latest estimates are of at least 3,724 people killed (including 298 on Flight MH17). But simply counting the bodies of those killed in war may not actually help us understand the death and destruction caused by war. Instead, my worry is that they end up erasing the violence inflicted on each of the bodies of those affected by war, and numbing our emotional responses to the deaths of others. … … read more

National Peacekeepers’ Day

By Deborah Jones

For those of us with family members who wear the uniform, Peacekeeping is not an abstract. It’s in the realm of life-or-death, more than the political arena, or a philosopher’s tower. We are acutely aware that Peacekeepers are civilization’s last resort, the ones called when we’ve failed so utterly and appallingly in our vital community, economic and diplomatic tasks that war erupts. …. read more

World and War

By Deborah Jones

Every person who fought in World War I is now dead – and yet no one alive today is unaffected. The war consumed much of the globe for, arguably, decades. Many contend that the unresolved conflicts of the “Great War” re-ignited to become the conflagration we call World War II, then set in motion events from the Cold War to today’s Middle Eastern conflicts. A century after it began, I am most astonished at the hubris. … read more

Far from Flanders Fields

By Deborah Jones

It’s at Ypres that my imagination falters, along with my tenuous grasp of poet John McCrae’s identity, and interest in the tiresome debate over the merits and meanings of his poem In Flanders Fields. It’s because of Ypres I am unable to imagine a man with the sensitivity of a poet and the intelligence of a physician harbouring “romantic” notions of war in the conditions of 1915 trench warfare. … read more

The Decline in Global Violence

By Andrew Mack

Has the long-term threat of violence — war, terrorism, and homicide —  been decreasing or increasing worldwide? For some, the answer seems clear. Many in the strategic community concur with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said today’s world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.”  But there is little evidence to support them. During 2012, the number of conflicts being waged around the world dropped sharply, from 37 to 32. High – intensity conflicts have declined by more than half since the end of the Cold War, while terrorism, military coup and genocide numbers are also down. And this is not a recent phenomenon. According to Harvard University’s Steven Pinker, violence of all kinds has been declining for thousands of years; he has argued “we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species’ existence.” In the 2013 Human Security Report The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence Explanation and Contestation — excerpted here — global security specialist Andrew Mack analyses the evidence. … read more


‘JACK’ and ELEANOR NASH: Hastily wed, quickly separated in 1914.

By Michael Sasges

In the spring I “knew” fewer small stories about the Great War than big stories. Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August was probably the biggest because the first I knew; Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919, probably the best remembered because the latest I read. The deaths, in 1917 in France, of two men from “my” street was probably the smallest, and only, Great War story I knew. In the fall, at this Canadian Remembrance Day, I now know that the cenotaph which memorializes Alexander Hogg and David Hogg is short at least one name, Tommy Charters, and the “roll of honour” hanging in one of the local churches is short many names. I also know the man whose name tops one of the cenotaph’s faces was a middle-aged bachelor who got married on his way to the Great War. … read more

Why Remember?

We must remember. If we do not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand Canadian lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for Canada. The meaning of their sacrifice rests with our collective national consciousness; our future is their monument.1

These wars touched the lives of Canadians of all ages, all races, all social classes. Fathers, sons, daughters, sweethearts: they were killed in action, they were wounded, and thousands who returned were forced to live the rest of their lives with the physical and mental scars of war. The people who stayed in Canada also served—in factories, in voluntary service organizations, wherever they were needed.

Yet for many of us, war is a phenomenon seen through the lens of a television camera or a journalist's account of fighting in distant parts of the world. Our closest physical and emotional experience may be the discovery of wartime memorabilia in a family attic. But even items such as photographs, uniform badges, medals, and diaries can seem vague and unconnected to the life of their owner. For those of us born during peacetime, all wars seem far removed from our daily lives.

We often take for granted our Canadian values and institutions, our freedom to participate in cultural and political events, and our right to live under a government of our choice. The Canadians who went off to war in distant lands went in the belief that the values and beliefs enjoyed by Canadians were being threatened. They truly believed that "Without freedom there can be no ensuring peace and without peace no enduring freedom."2

By remembering their service and their sacrifice, we recognize the tradition of freedom these men and women fought to preserve. They believed that their actions in the present would make a significant difference for the future, but it is up to us to ensure that their dream of peace is realized. On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve.

During times of war, individual acts of heroism occur frequently; only a few are ever recorded and receive official recognition. By remembering all who have served, we recognize their willingly-endured hardships and fears, taken upon themselves so that we could live in peace.

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