Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. We wear poppies and schools take time to enforce a minute of silence at 11:00 to think about the soldiers that have died in the wars Canada has fought, in particular WW1 and WW2. I find it a very emotional thing to contemplate going off to war; the very idea of being in a situation where there is such great need that I would be prepared to die halfway around the world is staggering. The world I live in is so far from that mindset that it is difficult for me to imagine how I would feel if I truly had to face up to the choice of going to fight far away to protect my home. I certainly could join the military now if I wanted to do that sort of thing but the idea that Canada is in even the slightest danger is laughable so I cannot really understand that fundamental choice to stay or go since my contribution is entirely unneeded. I cannot think that I am protecting those close to me, or even my country in general, but rather fighting for people I do not know and probably never will know.
During the mobilization for WW1 there was much more optimism and fanfare; people simply assumed the war would be over quickly and with minimal casualties. War then was really treated much more like a noble pursuit, something where honor, courage and righteousness were paramount. WW2 was different because it was obvious the fight would be long and brutal and people still remembered the incredible destruction and carnage that marked WW1 combat like nothing before it. However, it was also much clearer that WW2 was not a simple European disagreement but rather a desperate conflict to stop a dictator with real ambitions of world conquest. What must it feel like to be at home knowing that someone out there must go and die to stop a relentless foe from slowing placing all things beneath his boot? I cannot fathom such a choice, to look around me and know that I could avoid going, I could stay home and live, or go and suffer, and perhaps die. I suppose people must simply forget and ignore what could happen and fill themselves with hope and patriotism.
I wonder what the future of Remembrance Day is. We are approaching the point where very few of the people involved in the world wars are still alive and children today would often have no one in their lives with memories of what it was like to make the decision to fight in such a war. Some part of me thinks it must be like I imagine being a hero in a fantasy story to be: Setting aside personal danger to follow a dream of a better world. Of course real people don't get the comforts of super powers or central casting in a plot and must either fool themselves or accept that they are as likely to die as anyone else and that they stand a good chance of losing regardless. It is grand to say that you will lay down your life to save the world but less so to know that you may die and your side may still lose. The courage to fight without that knowledge of certain victory and with the acknowledgement of tremendous danger is something I hope I never have to find within myself.