Lest we forget. Never again. Those phrases conjure images of poppies and my childhood interpretation of Remembrance Day. November 11 assumed a distinct purpose through my eyes back then: to honour veterans and those who had sacrificed their lives for our country and to acknowledge that war is awful, people die and suffer terribly, and we must do everything within our power to prevent it from happening again.
Somehow the latter part of that message has grown fuzzy over the years, giving rise to a new sense of militarism. Remembrance Day honours veterans and fallen soldiers and their bravery—as well it should—but it doesn’t seem to raise the obvious question of how we might avoid such losses in the future.
In Lest We Forget, CBC commentator Rex Murphy explores the link between Remembrance Day and Canada’s newly elected Trudeau government. “The ease and even tranquility with which power changes hands in our democracy today is the recurrent harvest of valour and sorrow on battlefields long ago,” he says.
I’m a pacifist, but I agree with him. I know the horrors that unfolded on the battlefield won the democracy we cherish today and I won't dishonour soldiers by saying otherwise. But even as I grieve for them, a troubling question nags at me: could there have been another way?
In an article for Light Magazine, peacebuilder Christina Bartel Barkman writes about her grandfather's experience of war, summarized through the words of William T. Sherman, “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
I long for Canada and indeed for the world to find non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. For those reasons, I wear both a poppy and a Mennonite Central Committee peace button in November, honouring the past and looking with hope to the future.
Philosopher George Santayana famously stated, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What can we learn from past wars, not to fight more efficiently, but to avoid violence altogether?
And what can we learn from those who commit their lives to non-violent conflict resolution?
More on that next time.
" . . . in the conflicts in the past 15 years, only 7.5% have ended with a military victory by one party over the other. The negotiation route, though long and difficult, is the one that prevails in 92% of the cases. The challenge is thus not being a skilful warrior but a skilful negotiator." - 2008 Peace Process Yearbook, School for a Culture of Peace, Autonomous University of Barcelona.