On November 11th, 1918, in a train carriage outside Compiègne, France, an Armistice was signed, bringing an end to the war between Germany and the Allies, to be ratified January 10th, 1920 in the Treaty of Versailles. For 4 years, 3 months and 2 weeks before, 16 million people died, with another 20 million people wounded in battle.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
So goes the poem by Canadian physician John McCrae in the Great War. McCrae was born in 1872 in Guelph, Ontario, some 30 kilometers from where I write this. On January 28, 1918 he died in Boulange, France.
At the time, it was the Great War, the War to end all wars. Yet war is still waged, on a daily basis. Different weapons are used, and certainly different language describes it. Surgical strikes, aerial suppression. Armed insurgents. Drone strikes.
How well have we done in carrying the torch for the dead? What freedoms do we protect, to keep faith with those from the past? Despite so much shared suffering in the past century, I think one of the greatest tragedies today is humanity’s inhumanity.
We still live in a world where we are not judged solely by the strength of our character. The colour of our skin, our sex or sexual orientation, our national ancestry, where we live, our religion or lack thereof are still all used as justification for some of the worst forms of discrimination.
What gives me hope is that when a mosque is spray-painted with graffiti reading “go home”, when a woman speaks up against sexual violence from a media personality, that there are those in the community who help clean the vandalism, those who will speak up for those suffering from acts of violence, saying that “I believe you”.
This Remembrance Day, let us not forget the veterans who died on foreign soil, far from home. But let us not forget our ability to care for others who are different from us. Let us remember that we are all human.