We do remember

By  John Moore, Catholic Register Special
  • November 23, 2007
remembrance2002.jpgOTTAWA - On Nov. 11, I attended Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. More accurately, I tried to attend. As it happened, I did not get close enough to see the prime minister and the Governor General and the other dignitaries, or to see the wreaths being laid.

What I did see were large numbers of people walking, as I was, along Elgin Street toward Parliament Hill, and then stopping at the backs of the people who had already stopped hundreds of metres from the National War Memorial. I saw huge crowds ahead of and around me, straining on tiptoe to see and climbing onto walls and any other elevation to get a better vantage point. Alas, all that many of us could see was the very top of the War Memorial.

So I and many others in the vast crowd — later estimated by the media at 30,000 — followed the ceremonies as best we could by listening to the proceedings over loudspeakers. Heard most clearly in the cool morning air was the lone trumpet playing “The Last Post.” This was one of the most poignant moments for me.

At first the piece sounds rather jaunty, and the galloping melody brings to mind the innocent cries of boys calling upon friends to come out to play. Yet as it goes on, the plaintive solo quality and the lack of any echoing response to the melody’s cry seem to signal the end of boyhood and of innocence and of play.

The crowd was silent through most of the ceremony. In fact, the first clapping came quite near the end, during the Benediction by Rabbi Reuven Bulka. In a strong voice he repeated several times “We love our troops.” This simple statement seemed to capture the sentiments of many, and clapping erupted among those around me and through all sections of the crowd.

Greater waves of applause greeted the veterans as they marched past at the end of the ceremony; and this continued during the march-past of active members of the Armed Forces.

This is the first Remembrance Day ceremony I have attended in Ottawa, so it is perhaps unwise to draw any conclusions from what I saw. Yet media reports also commented on what impressed me: the increasing size of the audience and their increasing willingness to applaud.

It seems to me that a new attitude is developing among Canadians with respect to our Armed Forces and the casualties they incur. It is not an uncritical attitude, nor does it fail to take into account the complexities of missions like Afghanistan. But it is an attitude that honours the soldiers for what they do and the sacrifices they make for Canada. It is an attitude that mourns the loss of every life, but understands that there are causes worth fighting for.

I believe that such an attitude is more amenable to a Christian world-view than the attitude it replaces. For the Christian, sacrifice for the sake of the good is inherently valuable. We believe that Jesus sacrificed His life so that we may have life. We believe that the sacrifices we make for each other out of love will ultimately bear fruit.

It seems that Canadian society is emerging from an era when the notion of sacrifice was laughable. The view that sacrifice can be noble, and that those who make sacrifices should be honoured, has now become acceptable once again.

Canadians know that Afghanistan and other contemporary conflicts are complex and challenging, and most would acknowledge that people of goodwill may respectfully disagree about the efficacy of our military involvement.

Yet, whatever their opinion on this particular conflict, it seems that growing numbers of Canadians believe that good people must make sacrifices to bring about a better society and a better world. The notion of sacrifice is once again an important societal value. As Christians we should be grateful that a central value of our faith is once more a value of Canadian society.

(Moore is a freelance writer based in Ottawa.)

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