Remembrance Day is a day where we’re supposed to remember, but only in a certain way. We are only to remember the war dead as heroes, not as victims or suckers or murderers or villains. We are only to remember the wars in which they were murdered in as honourable, particularly WWII–the only war of the last century where a decent rhetorical case can be made to name it an honourable war.1 And of course, we are only to remember those killed on our side.
An especially fickle thing about Remembrance Day is that it evolved from Armistice Day, which was instituted to specifically remember the anniversary of the ceasing of hostilities in WWI, that Great War after which the thought of war ever occurring again was horrifying and, many hoped, unthinkable. But as the horror of WWI faded, Armistice Day evolved from a remembering of the ceasing of war to remembering and honouring veterans, leading it to be renamed in most places to Memorial Day or Veterans Day. The Canadian War Museum says the following about the rebranding in 1931:
The term ‘Remembrance Day’ placed the emphasis squarely upon memory – and by extension upon the soldiers whose deaths were being remembered – rather than upon the Armistice, a political achievement in which rank-and-file soldiers were not directly involved.
As the focus shifts from remembering the end of war to remembering the sacrifice of veterans, we are remembering in such a way that no longer questions war. The focus on the supposed honour of the soldiers’ sacrifice makes the question “what if those soldiers were just wastefully murdered as pawns of the powerful?” seem distasteful. Dissent is quelled before it has a chance to form.
Today, I remember differently. I remember that what we call Remembrance Day now once soberly remembered the ceasing of what was hopefully called The War to End All Wars. I remember that Jesus Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and that talk of the sacrifice of soldiers and their blood shed for us is part of the rival religion of the state, always demanding the blood of its children. I remember that love is stronger than hatred, hope stronger than fear, light than darkness. I remember into the future—this might be called hope—the end of war.
- Although I wonder what German, Italian and Japanese people remember on Remembrance Day? Losing? ↩