Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest We Forget

When November 11 comes around, I usually think of other generations. My grand father who served in WWI, my dad and uncles in WWII, and for the last decade the men and women young enough to have been my kids who have put themselves on the line in Afghanistan.

After all, I was never asked to put myself in harm's way. The nine years I spent in uniform saw the end of the Viet Nam war and the Cold War thawed into a hockey tournament. It was another 9 years before the Berlin Wall came down and pundits announced the "end of history" but at the time it seemed clear that we were heading that way. The worst trauma I had to face was finding out that, on the whole, I really wasn't very well suited to my chosen profession.
The class of 1977 at the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean.

Last night I was watching a documentary on an episode of the Canadians who held open the airport during siege of Sarajevo so that humanitarian supplies could get through and it occurred to me that while I may not be a Vet (in the usual sense), no one ever pointed a gun at me or put me in a position to take life or bear witness to atrocities and the horrors of war, especially civil war, nor did I lose friends or men under my command in action but there are those of my generation who did, including former classmates, friends and cousin. 

In some cases I've heard small bits of the experiences of this one or that one, close shaves as peacekeeper in Syria that my cousin John turned into amusing stories, a former classmate telling about coming out of a negotiations with one side in Cyprus to find that his driver had been shot dead, a friend talking about the tedium, heat and periodic life and death tension of enforcing a blockade in the Gulf, another skirting over the horrors of the former Yugoslavia that don't go away easily. I didn't stay in long enough to be asked to go and that's probably best all around but they went and we should remember them too. 


  1. Thanks, Ross, for taking the opportunity to say something worthwhile on the subject - thought-provoking as ever. I've observed a rash of blog posts on the subject of Remembrance Day today, and - without any doubts as to the sincerity of the sentiments expressed - there is a depressing air of "yeah, me too" about most of it. Not unlike people queuing up to add their names to the books of condolences when Princess Diana died - less a public outpouring of grief than a public commitment to not being left out of what's going on. All with the same message. Maybe it is the right thing to do - I wouldn't know. Wear your poppy with pride - 20p buys you a clear conscience.

    Today I have been hearing about some poor old ex-serviceman who died recently in Britain, pretty much alone. Someone took it upon themselves to pay for a public funeral, publicised it on FaceBook and 300 or so strangers turned up at the funeral to pay their respects. Notwithstanding the fact that they may have been FaceBook subscribers, that is quite pleasing - can hardly find fault with that - but it makes me wonder how many people had bothered to visit him during the previous 20 years. Is it possible that, on the whole, we are more interested in dead people?

    When I was on my Danube trip recently, the gentleman who took us around Eggmuhl - Georg - told me that he is a Bavarian by birth, and he has traced his family back a few hundred years - back to a time when they were Austrians. He says that, at 68, he is the first member of his direct line as far as he can trace them who was never called upon to fight in a war. That - like your thoughts - seems to me to be the principal thing we should be giving thanks for. If the fallen achieved anything, let's hope it was a reduction in the inevitability of major wars. I can't remember where I read it, but I did once read that the objective of a war is to win it and then live at peace with your enemy - I'll drink to that.

    1. It adds a twist to the documentaries now, that they often have veterans from both sides talking about their memories. Makes it all feel somewhat different and makes a football seem like a better choice of weapon.

  2. Dear Ross,
    Thank you for your service. Being a veteran does not mean being gassed (like my wife's grandfather) during WWI, serving in the Pacific and Korea like my Godfather, or being shot at in Lebanon like my uncle. It means service in whatever capacity and defending the interests of your country in particular and humanity in general.
    So later today when I have a quiet moment, I'll keep a good thought for all the fine men and women who served. We call it Veteran's Day in the US although my Grandmother refused to call it anything else but Armistice Day as it was originally known.
    Have a peaceful and honored day.
    A/K/A The Celtic Curmudgeon

    1. I hear you Jerry but for me there is a difference between those who like me who served a few peaceful years and those who spent a good chunk of their life at it and especially those were asked to go in harms way and did. Anyway, thanks for the thanks and for the thoughts for all who have served.

      Armistice Day has largely given way here to Remembrance Day, not a bad name,