So, normally, I flog this
dead dying horse about once a year when the veterans’ lobby ~ the Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Affairs Canada and so on ~ decide that we should make the hours and days and even weeks around November 11th all about veterans. That is a lame notion that ignores why King George V, grieving nations and, above all, veterans themselves wanted a Remembrance Day in the first place: to Remember those who died in battle. But it is never enough for the veterans lobby: the dead, you see, are gone and mostly forgotten and cannot award themselves medals for attending conventions. The living want to be special. They want some extra recognition for the fact ~ and, for some, it is a fact ~ that they served, that they did something that their neighbour and coworkers didn’t do. But it goes beyond that, many want recognition of their “service” in veterans’ organizations, even if they never wore a uniform for a day in their lives.
Now, I see they are at it again; Veterans Affairs Canada is mounting a full-blown public consultation about a Commemoration Strategic Plan:
Now, I admit that my initial reaction was “here we go again,” and my initial, first draft response is: ” Great, let’s have a Veterans’ Day, just like the Americans do, but let’s, please, not confuse it with Remembrance Day. Let’s have our Canadian Veterans’ Day in May or June, when the weather in fair and the older veterans don’t have to wrap up in blankets and shiver while they are being fêted by politicians and minor celebrities. Because that, it seems to me, is what a lot of people want.
I am, officially, a veteran. I get pensions for my service and for service related injuries. But I neither expect nor do I want your thanks, or that of our nation. I self-identify as an old, retired and slightly broken-down soldier. I enlisted and served for over 35 years my own reasons. They always seemed and still seem sufficient to me, but, let me assure you that dying for my country was never high on my list. I was paid for my service, not as well as I might have wished, and, now and again, not quite as much as it was worth, but that was the only “thanks” I ever expected from my country.
I have not set foot in a Legion since I retired ~ we were, too often, even when I was a senior officer, voluntold to go, on 11 November, for a pint with the “old vets.” In later years I understood that the Royal Canadian Legion knew it was dying and it was trying to drum up interest from, especially, serving officers. I wish the Royal Canadian Legion and its programmes ~ for veterans and for the community ~ well; I’m just not interested.
But I am interested in the Commemoration Strategic Plan and I hope many of my readers will be, too. When the consultations open here is, roughly, what I plan to say (not too different my initial thoughts):
- We need one time each year ~ and a few minutes around November 11th seems about right ~ to Remember, quietly, those ~ and only those ~ who died in Canada’s wars. It doesn’t have to be 11 November, exactly ~ the nearest Sunday would do;
- Canadians don’t really need a public holiday in early November, especially not for something that makes many people uncomfortable. But, Canadians would like a seasonal ‘shopping day’ on about the first Monday in December if having public holidays is a key driver;
- Please get the Legion out of the annual Remembrance Day or Remembrance Sunday service. The Royal Canadian Legion no longer represents the men and women who served alongside those who died in battle. Let local communities organize their own services in their own ways, tell the military to help them. There’s nothing wrong with the Legion being involved, in a supporting role, but it is not their “day,” it belongs to someone else, to someone who cannot speak for themselves; and
- Let’s have a Canadian Veterans’ Day, but let’s have it in the late spring or early summer when the weather is fine and older veterans can actually enjoy gathering with old friends and marching along to the applause of the crowds. Let the Legion organize that day and the weeks around it, in every city, town and village; but
- Please don’t confuse thanking living veterans for their service with remembering those who died for our country: two different things need two very different sorts of commemoration.