Sentries from the Ceremonial Guard at the National War Memorial. The Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is visible in the foreground. Wikipedia

Editorial: Peace be with you

  • November 5, 2020

There were more than 30,000 people gathered around the National War Memorial in Ottawa for Remembrance Day ceremonies last year. This Nov. 11 — with COVID-19 restrictions — there will be no more than 100.

That is a shame, but the extraordinary circumstances change nothing about the day’s significance. At the 11th hour of the 11th month, wherever we are, silence will descend, and once again we will remember those who fought or died for our freedom.

In the First World War, more than 650,000 Canadians served and almost one in 10 died. Over one million more served in the Second World War and 45,000 paid the ultimate price. There were over 500 deaths from the Korean conflict in the early ‘50s and, most recently, 158 Canadians died while serving in Afghanistan. We remember them, living and dead, because to forget them is to give up hope for humanity.

“War is hell” is a phrase that goes back to the U.S. Civil War — attributed to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — and no one has successfully mounted a contrary opinion. It is a hell into which mankind continues to slide despite all the destruction and death left in its wake. A conservative estimate is that more than 108 million people died around the world in wars fought in the 20th century. What will be the count in the 21st century?

War has always been the convenient fallback for nations to get what they want. That is why the military complex was built and why it continues to haunt us with the threat of nuclear war.

It is encouraging to note that last week the United Nations announced the governments of 50 countries have now ratified the 2017 UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which means it will finally come into force in January. Unfortunately, the treaty — which forbids testing, funding or building of nuclear weapons — has no signatories from nuclear-armed countries, including the United States and Russia.

Canada, despite its support for reducing the nuclear threat, has also refused to sign the treaty. Official urging from cities across the country and groups such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has not swayed the federal government.

Pope Francis — and eight popes before him stretching back to the First World War — have all condemned war and the conditions that led nations into armed conflict. Francis has been especially vocal, lending his support for the UN treaty and exposing the causes and consequences of war.

“Every war leaves our world worse than it was before,” he wrote in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. “War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.”

Peace has never been easy to achieve in this world, and frustratingly fragile, slipping so easily from our grasp.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. We’re sure that all those who we honour on Remembrance Day, knowing the horrors of war, wish for that peace.

Remember them, and their message.

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