It’s a funny thing about Remembrance Day.
We all put on our poppy pins. We listen to the prayers and poems, we sing the hymns and anthems. We lay wreaths, and we do it together, as a community, honouring the veterans among us.
And then we go home and back to our regular lives and vote in elections for the same kinds of people that keep getting us into these wars, without so much as a second thought.
I have a lot of relatives I never met. They lie in graves in France and Belgium. I had a few relatives, when I was growing up, who would not talk about their war. And they had relatives that they had never met, or ones who wouldn’t talk about their war, either.
But they were the ones who made that commitment. They gave us a motto – I’ve seen it plastered all over the internet both before and on November 11th: Lest We Forget.
Lest We Forget.
It doesn’t mean what you think it means.
It wasn’t meant as a slogan to turn dead bodies of our young into objects of warrior fetishism. It wasn’t meant to be a day for people who have never fought to get all teary-eyed and borrow the dead’s glory.
It wasn’t about honour or courage, or a way to elevate conflict into a holy act.
It was meant to remind us that when leaders make bad choices, it is the innocent who pay the price. We weren’t supposed to remember the dead as plaster casts of “heroes” – we were meant to remember that they wanted an end to war, to conflict, to strife.
Both “world wars” ended, in many, many ways, the old order of things. The men and women who came home wanted a far different future than the one their leaders had sent them to preserve. They had fought, and bled, and died, and they wanted to never again be at the mercy of demagogues playing diplomacy chess with other people’s lives.
They demanded real freedom, in the form of universal suffrage, medical care, welfare, old age pensions, and access to good education. In most countries, they got all, or part – and then, as we lost sight of the message, those things have disappeared, one by one, stolen by the false god of patriotism, draped in a flag to hide the naked greed that lives underneath.
And not one of the veterans we trot out onto a stage once a year went there to defend a pretty piece of cotton fabric. They didn’t go to defend a way of life that denied most of them any real choices or protections – they went for the future. They went for their dreams of what could be.
Don’t make that sacrifice an empty one, by pretending that we don’t still have a long way to go.
* This was originally published on November 11, 2016. But it bears repeating.