… that, given it’s mandate and, indeed, it’s very name, Veterans Affairs Canada manages, again, to totally misrepresent Remembrance Day, according to a report by CBC News. I’m not concerned that ““at least half the participants in the English sessions did not recognize In Flanders Fields, nor did any of the Montreal participants.”” Perhaps it is only right and proper that we have stopped teaching a poem that was intended to challenge those who, over 100 years ago, could still fight to join the fight.
But the ‘message’ that Veterans Affairs seems, to me, to be trying to propagate, again, is that Remembrance Day is, somehow, all about veterans … that’s arrant nonsense. We veterans, I guess I count as one although it is not how I define myself, are there, as we should be, only to honour those who died, those who never got a chance to become veterans because they were blown to bits or died in a burning aircraft or drowned at sea or lay for hours, in no-man’s-land, wracked with pain, waiting for the blessed relief of death. That’s why we go to the cenotaph, once a year: to remember the 100,000+ Canadian men and women who were killed in our wars, large and small, from South Africa in 1899 (arguably, from North West Canada in 1885) until today. But, today, there is a movement, spearheaded by civil servants and the Royal Canadian Legion, to change the focus to honour their clients: veterans, like me … even at the expense of remembering our dead.
I guess I understand what motivates the bureaucrats and the Legion‘s management: the veterans, not the almost forgotten dead, are their clients and they are alive and they vote, when the bureaucrats and politicians aren’t fighting them in court to deny them benefits I suppose it makes sense to try to placate them, and the public, by honouring them … even on the one day of the year when most veterans just want to remember their friends and comrades-in-arms who died.
When the three proposed advertisements for use in the governments’s 2018 advertising campaign were ‘tested’ on focus groups the reports said that ““Some participants said that the ad made them feel guilty, which they found off-putting.”” I’m sure no one wants to “feel guilty,” but perhaps that is the right response, once a year. I know, for certain, that some veterans do “feel guilty,” almost every day, because they were able, as the Navy’s prayer (written in 1662) says, to “return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies,” while their mates came home in flag draped coffins. Maybe we should all feel just a little, tiny twinge of guilt, but only once a year, when we think, ever so briefly, about the true costs of war.
Don’t get me wrong, many veterans, some of whom are my friends, paid a high price, and many are still paying it today, as they suffer from grievous physical and mental wounds. They deserve our respect and, maybe, we need to have our own, Canadian “Veterans’ Day,” just like our American friends and neighbours have. The Americans have their day on or near November 11th, perhaps we could have our own holiday to honour our living veterans in May, when the weather is nicer, perhaps even coincident with the American Memorial Day. I would be in favour of that, I would favour, in fact, making our Canadian Veterans’ Day a public holiday and changing Remembrance Day to Remembrance Sunday, as the British do, and leaving it to those, like the Silver Cross Mother, and the families and friends of those who died in battle … to those who really want to go to the cenotaph on a cold, wet November morning to remember something and someone. Maybe we can let Veterans Affairs and the Royal Canadian Legion run the Veterans’ Day celebrations to honour their clients and leave it to the military to run Remembrance Sunday …
Anyway, I’m not surprised that many Canadians have trouble understanding Remembrance Day … it shouldn’t be surprising when the agencies who plan and conduct the affair seem to have forgotten its real purpose.
But, it’s now been almost 120 years since Canadians came home from the Boer War in South Africa; it’s been 100 years since the end of the “war to end all wars,” it’s been over 100 years since John McCrae enjoined his fellow Canadians (and Australian and Brits and New Zealanders, too) to “Take up our quarrel with the foe,” it’s been 75 years since my father was killed in action at sea during the Second World War and 65 years since the cease fire that ended combat in Korea; and next year, in 2019 it will have been five years since Canada ended combat operations in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s time to change the focus away from those who died and towards those who served. It’s something Seamus O’Regan and his deputy minister, retired general Walt Natynczyk and the Legion’s Dominion President Thomas Irvine should, at least consider.
For myself, no matter what anyone else decides, I will continue to observe Remembrance Day for what it is meant to be, not what the bureaucrats and the Legion‘s management want it to become; and if we have a Veterans’ Day I will stay home … I don’t need anyone’s thanks for my service; you paid me well enough, as much as your elected representatives thought fair, anyway, and I always tried my best to be worthy of my hire.