This year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies have been altered to fit with the threats posed by the novel coronavirus. We won’t be able to gather at cenotaphs and cemeteries as we usually would.
Still, the significance of November 11 – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – goes well beyond the ceremonies. Remembrance Day recalls the sacrifices of those who served in the military, particularly those who lost their lives in the two large-scale conflicts that shaped the 20th century.
But “Lest we forget” is best applied to remembering the horrors of war, and avoiding them in the future. The ideal way to honour the veterans of past wars is to ensure their ranks are never increased.
That is perhaps too optimistic for a species with a long history of violence, conflict and imperialistic aspirations. Despite all we know, there’s still a sizable group of people who support the kind of power plays and warmongering that generates the smaller-scale conflicts perpetually brewing all over the planet, whether they be the work of petty, power-grubbing tyrants or larger powers still bent on imperialism and meddling in the affairs of others.
Wars don’t typically happen in isolation. Those on a larger scale are the result of a host of other factors, from historical grievances to external aggression. Often there’s a build-up of military jingoism and propaganda flaming the fires of war. It’s a tactic that is still employed each and every day by leaders from Russia to North Korea, from China to the U.S., the latter being textbook cases of modern imperialism.
The key to avoiding wars, or at least reducing its likelihood, is an informed citizenry that recognizes the propaganda and refuses to buy into the worst kind of patriotism. Short of fending off an invasion of your home, there’s little reason for much of the military adventurism of the kind we see continually south of the border. And of which even Canada, certainly not a military superpower, gets mired in from time to time – include on that list the likes of Afghanistan and the missions in the confusing morass that is Syria.
Recognizing the propaganda angle of much of the jingoism typically involves asking the basic question: who stands to gain? There are the arms manufacturers who profit outright, the same people who own many a politician through lobbying and financial donations. There’s the military itself, which extends its raison d’être. And there are the politicians who cling to or seek power on the back of “strong leadership,” recognizing that it’s much easier to stir up patriotic fervour than to do something of actual benefit to the majority of citizens.
Refusing to be caught up in all of that is easier said than done, especially during times of real crisis, no matter how the crisis was manufactured. Still, there’s much at stake if we continue down the current road, the massive amounts of wasted money the least of it as we head down the road to a police state and fascism.
In that light, Remembrance Day becomes more than honouring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last century. It’s also about heeding the message that vigilance is needed to avoid sliding into the kind of totalitarian morass that marked much of the 20th century and is on the rise again in the 21st.
The horrific great wars of the past are in some ways less likely to reoccur given today’s massively destructive weapons and geopolitical ties, but we also face greater threats to our freedoms, privacy and autonomy due to technology wielded by corporate greed and invasive, police-state governments, the very definition of fascism so many gave their lives to fight in the Second World War that ended 75 years ago.