Growing up as a post-war baby boomer, I’ve often thought the Second World War cast a shadow over my childhood and youth. My father lived through occupied France between the ages of eight and 13. My close friend’s father was a veteran who had marched north up the Italian peninsula with the Canadian Army. My grandmother would speak sadly of her older brother, who was lost when his plane went down while serving in the air force. War left a strong impression on these people which took a long time to process, not only touching them but also those close to them.
Remembrance Day would usually happen on a dark and chilly day. I would dutifully file into my school auditorium for the ceremony and be moved by the reading of In Flanders Fields. Watching TV was limited. The Remembrance Day broadcasts could trigger bad memories in my father and upset him.
Exposure to relatives and friends who had experienced those wars firsthand left an impact which made war more immediate than it is today.
“The traditional service was created to comfort those who grieve, but today very few of us experience grief because of war (at least those of us in North America),” said Rev. Mark Chiang of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Alberta Avenue.
As time passes, Remembrance Day in its traditional form carries less meaning for most of us.
“I think that it’s helpful for our elderly members who have a living memory of the wars, but a traditional service like that is really on its last legs,” said Chiang.
If Remembrance Day has less meaning for a baby boomer such as myself, then what about the younger generations?
In order to remain relevant, the scope of Remembrance Day needs to be expanded. War impacts not just veterans, but also civilians on the home front and those who become refugees. The traditional red poppy symbolizes the war graves in northern France, but Canada has also been involved in the Korean, Afghani, and Iraq wars. Perhaps a new symbol would be more appropriate?
The use of children in war is not new. For example, children were commonly used in the Second World War resistance as spies, porters, and messengers. Today, engaging children in active combat is more common. The lightweight M-16 rifle has made this possible. Children are easy targets for war recruitment as they can be easily influenced. Some are forced, while others join to escape their difficult circumstances.
The Alberta Avenue district is home to a community of Somali refugees. Many of these refugees have witnessed child soldiers recruited by Marxist rebels during the collapse of the Somali government in the 80s. Humanitarian efforts for war refugees and the prevention of child soldiers would have more relevance to this community than the traditional Remembrance Day ceremony.
Chiang recognized the need for humanitarian efforts when he commented that “[Remembrance Day] will eventually become a purely secular activity, promoted by our Armed Forces. … the church of the future can focus on preaching peace, grieving and lamenting that war still happens anywhere on our planet, and advocating on behalf of disempowered refugees and victims of war.”