Lest we forget

By Jennifer Bowman in Editorial

Lest we forget.

But what should we remember? Generally as Remembrance Day approaches we focus on the soldiers who have died in sacrificing for our country. It is closely connected to honouring those who have sacrificed for our freedom.

In one of our stories this month, a war veteran said he didn’t think future generations would remember. He remembered shaving with tea in wartime because it was the only available warm water. He remembered his cousin who died in battle, but he didn’t think it was necessary for future generations to remember those things.

Should we remember? If so, what exactly should we be remembering? And why? Why should we remember the atrocities
of war?

A quote attributed to George Santayana summarizes one reason. “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919, a year after the Armistice Treaty was signed. Only 20 years later, the world apparently forgot and launched into the deadliest war in human history. Yet since World War 2 ended, we’ve had 72 years of world peace, if having no world war can be considered world peace.

Although World War 2 has the highest death toll of all wars in recorded human history, the percentage of the world’s population that was killed was smaller than some past wars. And since then, the major world powers have also remained relatively stable.

But according to the Pledge Peace Union, since the end of World War 2 in 1945, there have been more than 250 major wars in which more than 50 million people have been killed. It states that three times as many people have been killed in the last 90 years as in the previous 500. That makes the twentieth century the bloodiest and most brutal in the history of warfare.

So what should we remember and how do we honour those who sacrificed?

We can start by also remembering the soldiers’ widows, some left to raise a family on their own, others left without a family at all. By remembering the farmers who maintained the food supply while so many were away. The women and family members who had to care for their loved ones who returned from war mentally and emotionally damaged. The children who were separated from their families in concentration camps.

And when we remember these things, we need to remember each person we encounter is also fighting a battle. Perhaps not a battle in the bloodiest war, but an internal human battle. Often we can’t see their battles, but we can see the scars in their eyes, in their actions, hear the pain in their words. Sometimes the scars are difficult to look at, making us uneasy. Sometimes the pain comes out in anger and makes people unpleasant and difficult to work with. But when we remember they are fighting a battle, we can reach out in empathy instead of frustration or anger. And when we reach out in love, whether to a soldier’s spouse, a hurting child, or a difficult coworker, we take one step away from war.

For it is only when we act on what we remember that remembering will do
any good.