NELSON: Quiet contemplation is how Canadians remember

FACE TO FACE: Does Canada sufficiently honour those who have served?

On a frosty Nov. 11 at 11 a.m., the referee blew his whistle and stopped the soccer game. I was 15. We all looked to the portly official for an explanation. In thick Scottish brogue, he boomed: “Right lads, it’s time for a minute of silence to remember the lads and lasses who went before.”

Twenty-two young boys in the throes of adolescence stood respectfully, steam rising from their backs. For a full minute, they stood, alone with their thoughts.

It is that cold day that I remember as my first moment of meaningful personal reflection about the impossible circumstances faced by Canadians not much older than I was at the time.

Forty subsequent years as an educator made me proud of the role our public school ceremonies have played in sculpting the civilized, respectful way we Canadians recognize those who faced and fought two horrific world wars.

And I love that Canadians don’t romanticize or glorify war. We don’t indiscriminately label everyone “heroes” or “fallen warriors” and we don’t express unquestioning support for “our troops” or for Canada’s every military endeavour. That isn’t what Remembrance Day is about in Canada.

While July 1 is the day Canadians glorify our country, wave the flag and parade our patriotism, Nov. 11 isn’t. It is the day when Canadians take time for solemn personal reflection, reflection that tempers gratitude with an abhorrence of war.

But with fewer and fewer world war survivors and the advent of undeclared, invisible, guerrilla and unilateral wars, Remembrance Day is at a crossroads. Will it, as my khaki-clad colleague hopes, morph into a day of genuflection to all things military, a deifying of military heroism to the point that poor young Canadians with few prospects will feel compelled by the romantic idea of fighting and dying for their country?

Today, as I vacation in Palm Springs, my poppy and those of a legion of snowbirds will quietly and proudly be juxtaposed with the U.S. Veteran’s Day parade of tanks, fly-by’s, military pomp and fireworks celebrating past and present wars.

And at 11 a.m. today, I will again be the 15-year-old Canadian boy on that frosty soccer pitch, contemplating with Canadian countrymen both the “lads and lasses who went before” and the inhumanity of war.

Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.

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