At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them
Ross Andrews - Various Veins
At our cottage on Taylor Lake we had two steel boats. One was manufactured right here in Straffordville. Both were able to carry close to a ton without risk of being sunk.
It was only by experience we learned that if either of them were half full of rain water they lost all that stability. The steel hulls rotated around the water inside them and were swamped.
Maybe it's a stretch to see this as a model for what's happening to us in the way we handle deaths of men and women in our armed forces. I am not without sympathy for those people and their families and friends. There is a poem by Charles Wolfe, "The Burial of Sir John Moore" that I can't read without choking up. The soldiers dug the shallow grave with bayonets and laid Sir John to rest with the rumble of cannons filling the night. This happened in the Napoleonic wars when there were no aeroplanes to carry the dead home or media communications to tell the world a hero was being given last rites. Yet it fills me with sorrow.
George Jonas in The National Post cites his old teacher who said whatever is potent enough to do people good is potent enough to do them harm. Our ability to honour our dead is leading us to change the meaning of words. In the days of Sir John Moore a hero was one who performed an act of bravery. Today a hero is anyone who dies in or out of uniform, member of military, police, fire department. What word is left to describe one who dies defending his or her comrades?
Another linguistic shift is using supreme sacrifice instead of dying. Is dying any more supreme than being so wounded in body and mind they cannot take up the life they left to go to war? Many choose suicide as a way to end the pain. Wealth used for extravagant funerals could better be used to provide timely help for service people and their families. As it is, neglect is costing more lives than combat.
Words to describe our foes have undergone the same shift. A member of the French underground who was possibly a hero in World War II was never described as a murderer. Neither was a Gurkha who felt the shoelaces of a soldier to determine whether to slit his throat in the dark. Our people were taught this, myself included although I was only a cadet in high school. The Geneva Convention defined criminal acts as opposed to acts of war.
Last week people in Quebec asked, and rightly so, why should their dead soldier not be given the same honours as the one in Ottawa? This is a good example of George Jonas's message. Treating some heroes with full military honours has led to infighting.
I have known two men who were Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain. I saw in Ingersoll the colleagues of one expressing without words their farewells. No veteran could ask for more.
I have stood at the cenotaph on the bluff in Port Burwell on November 11th and thrilled to the bugle notes of Taps and Reveille echoing in the mists over the lake. The effect is most moving when a live person is playing a brass trumpet. The use of a mechanical player strikes me as synthetic like the endless rebroadcasting of events on CBC and CTV. The repetition exhausts the ability to stay at such an emotional pitch. Viewers go back to soaps and sports to escape reality.
Sadly, the same endless showing of Canadian fighter planes doing maneuvres as we wait to hear of actual combat dulls the interest in our military personnel risking their lives to stop war criminals from performing atrocities. We can't tell whether the planes are in the war zone or on maneuvres in Canada. The media use files to mark time between real newsworthy events.
We wear poppies and remember on Armistice Day. Ironically, on election days many of us don't bother to honour the freedom our military fight and die for.
There's a great hole in our remembrance mentality. It's the water filling our ship of state.