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Sacrifice, remembrance and change

Posted by Rebecca Kneen on

This week (November 11) we Canadians are asked to wear a poppy to remember those who fought and died in WWI, along with all other veterans. For many of us, this is both a very important remembrance, and a time of conflicting emotions.

For us, there are many more to remember, and the wars are not over.


 Across the world today, there are wars raging. Canadian forces are present as peacekeepers - or absent. We are not living in a time of peace, except within our own borders. Many of those who are dying now are not combatants, not voluntarily giving their bodies to a cause, but simply victims - and if they are not dead, they are refugees. Our foreign policies have helped create and support many of these conflicts. So how can we simply stand up and say "we remember the fallen heroes of past wars" without also thinking about how our actions as a nation are still creating victims? The white poppy symbolizes both unwilling victims and the hope of peace. It's another reminder that our responsibility is not over.

The Easter Lily is the symbol of respect for the women and men who have fought - and continue to fight - for Irish freedom from British colonial rule. It is an emblem of unity between the different traditions within the Irish nation. By contrast, the poppy is the symbol for the British and their allies in a particular war fought to protect colonial interests: it simply does not belong to a people who have been victims of colonization. For this reason, you will see Brian wear an Easter Lily all year long. "Canada is a multicultural society," he says. "Irish people are a part of that, to deny us our way of honouring our sacrifice goes against Canadian values."

Brian writes:

I'd wear a poppy, but my soldiers aren't buried there.
I've nothing to remember, because there are daily reminders
I'd give to support soldiers' widows, but my soldiers are called terrorists, my people are not allowed to fight back
When will this war end so that we can have a remembrance day?
When will all sides be able to gerkán (grieve)?
When will the western world recognize that there were, and are, more than two wars, and why do just industrialized nations deserve respect for their war dead?
Why do veterans allow their nations to create war dead in other countries as they fight against instead of for small nations (remember the rallying cry of WWI)?
So those who fought against tyranny can impose it on others.
No, I'll not wear a poppy, our war's not finished.


We are sure this will inspire discussion, as it is meant to. This is a time of sacred remembrance, yes, but also a time to think about how what we are now doing carries on the same patterns. How can we stop needing to build new monuments to new wars and war dead if we do not change? Take a moment, as you honour their sacrifice, to think of what your parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers died for. Was it to defend small nations? Was it to stop genocide and tyranny? or was it to protect oil fields and increase trade opportunities, to increase "first world" control over resources and people? Do we really want to keep creating victims?

In Rebecca's tradition, remembrance carries responsibility. Let's try that.

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