Tag Archives: remembrance day songs

remembrance day: musing on war and sacrifice

remembrance day has always been an ambiguous day for me. good memories : an hour in the rain under a gazillion umbrellas, proudly listening to my daughter singing a song with the girl guides at a remembrance day celebration; or a lovely morning 17 years ago when my then-boyfriend, now-husband were walking up and down the streets trying to find a place to have breakfast.

but mostly there is ambiguity. i watched the berlin wall come down on TV with my ex husband 20 years ago while on a let’s-make-it-up trip following a horrible fight. yes, the wall coming down was amazing, especially after having lived in berlin from 1980 to 1982 (and i’d like to propose pink floyd’s the wall as this year’s song in my annual tradition to suggest non-war remembrance day songs). that was only seven years before the destruction of the wall; it seemed nearly impossible then that it would ever happen. but seeing the wall fall felt as surreal as being on that trip with my ex husband. by that time, i had come to deeply distrust making up after a fight, knowing that the sweetness wouldn’t last long (three days in that case). i’m glad the end of the cold war lasted longer than my marriage, which was to end eight months later.

this surreal, ambiguous flavour has always seasoned my remembrance days. there are all these guys, and a few gals, walking around in their uniforms, wearing poppies. these poppies are pretty – really, they are – but it’s always felt like they were glorifying war. but wait, no, they aren’t. or are they? my head spins over that one every november 11.

questions that come up are: does being a soldier automatically make one complicit in the cruelties of war? if so, is that complicity the same as glorifying the killing, raping and maiming that happens in every war? what exactly are the sacrifices that a soldier makes? when someone celebrates soldiers and what they do, is it nationalism? glorification of war? gratitude? sentimentalism? hero worship? paying hommage to someone who truly deserves it? admiration?

lately, i have been thinking a bit about sacrifice, partly because of a book i am reading right now, the priority of love: christian charity and social justice, by timothy p. jackson. he proposes some instances of sacrifice as a truly sacred act, an act of love and surrender not in a masochistic sense or as something forced in oppression, but a giving of oneself in the deepest meaning of charity.

a soldier dying in the battle of metz 65 years ago – what sacrifice might that have been? what if we was protecting a fellow soldier, a brother-in-arms, a relationship that some say is as tight and binding as the one between mother and child?

i can’t get behind wars, never. maybe that’s because i was brought up in a fiercely pacifist household; even my grandfather refused to fight and opted to be a medic instead. but i can get behind one man giving his life, using his body as a shield so another may live.

thank you.

understanding war

the idea of the warrior has been very interesting to me in the last few months.

the idea.

this sentence does not mean: for the last few months, i’ve been exciting about becoming a soldier.

on one extreme, there is this image, or platonic ideal, of the noble, principled, disciplined, courageous and hopefully often victorious warrior engaged in the work of defending, protecting and promoting civic good.

on the other extreme, there is the tired, dirty, wounded soldier somewhere out on the foreign soil of afghanistan, a soldier who was, perhaps, seduced by the ideal of the warrior, and now lies there in her blood, wondering how the dickens she got herself into this, and what it’s all for.

in my NaNoWriMo book, my hero’s grandmother, bumbda’a, starts off as one of the famed african amazons of dahomey. she ends up as one of the millions of victims of one of the biggest wars against humanity: the slave trade. the way i portray it, she goes from the ideal – where i talk about her skills, her uniforms, her courage, and her practice of meditating before each battle – to the mundanely horrible.

as i am writing this, i realize that my understanding of war is minimal. all i have are these almost cartoon-like images. i probably read an average of 4 ,5 books a month but try my darndest to stay away from anything war-related. on the internet, i don’t seek out anything about wars, and i’ll avoid even the best movies about war (over 20 years ago, i walked out of deer hunter, which i regret to this day, because it was obvious that it was a very good movie).

i hide from war.

where it comes from is not difficult to guess. the first and second world wars, together with the nazi times, were the biggest shapers of my parents’ and grandparents’, and therefore to a large degree my, history. i grew up with stories of hiding in cellars, of my grandfather riding off on his motorcycle into battle where he worked as a medic, my other grandfather being a POW, my mother finding a burned body on a pleasant little afternoon walk. one of the shapers of my personal history was a documentary film about the nuclear explosion over hiroshima; traumatic for a 9-year-old. so i’m scared of war, and i hide.

and here is a question: as long as i hide from war, can i truly call myself a pacifist? as long as i hide from war, am i not in danger of turning the ideal of the “warrior for peace” into some romantic, disney-like dream with little substance? if i don’t understand what i’m against, how can i intelligently oppose it?

perhaps the first step, today, november 11, will be this: “my” park right outside my doorstep is memorial park, a park dedicated to veterans. remembrance day celebrations will begin in a short while. rather than not going there because i don’t want anything to do with war (as i always have) i can explore it, allow myself to taste the atmosphere.

and in response to a suggestion from a reader, here is another remembrance day song: terry kelly’s pittance of time.

“for to carry you to freedom”: a remembrance day song

helping hands blog awardin a few days, november 11, it’s remembrance day here in canada, or veterans day in the U.S.

many wars were and are still being fought, and many struggles. writing a novel about a slave on a louisiana plantation, one of the struggles that is foremost in my mind is the one against slavery in the U.S.

may we remember then today the women, children and men who fought against this horrible injustice, starting with capturing people from their homelands, to the unimaginable suffering in the middle passage, to the inhumane exploitation of slavery on farms, in factories, on plantations.

some of these women, children and men fought by jumping on the underground railroad to canada, from where they helped more to escape into freedom.

one of the songs from that era, legend has it, is follow the drinking gourd. the drinking gourd is the big dipper. look up at the sky, it says, and look for the big dipper. follow it north, “for to carry you to freedom”. watch this video and listen to the song. here are the lyrics:

when the sun comes back,
and the first quail calls,
follow the drinking gourd,
for the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom
if you follow the drinking gourd.

follow the drinking gourd,
follow the drinking gourd,
for the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom
if you follow the drinking gourd.

the riverbank will make a very good road,
the dead trees show you the way.
left foot, peg foot traveling on,
following the drinking gourd.
the river ends between two hills,
follow the drinking gourd,
there’s another river on the other side,
follow the drinking gourd.
when the great big river meets the little river,

follow the drinking gourd.
for the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom
if you follow the drinking gourd.

(more renditions and an interesting history of the song here)

i’d like to dedicate this post to sojourner. if you visit here regularly, you already know about her sunday inspirations.

sojourner doesn’t only inspire on sundays. she does it all week long. she inspires and reaches out, reaches out her hand to continue the human chain of peace and compassion that is so strong all throughout the blogosphere, just like less than 200 years ago, our ancestors were giving each other a hand on the way to freedom.

the other day sojourner gave me the huge honour of her helping hands award. this is probably the best blogging award i have ever gotten. today, i just want to shout out a big THANK YOU to sojourner. in the next week or so, i’ll tell you a bit more about the award. it deserves its own post.

this is part of my remembrance day songs series.  interested in more?  

  • the last remembrance day song for 2007: canto libre by victor jara view post
  • remembrance day songs for a different kind of soldier view post
  • remembrance day songs for 2007 view post
  • remembrance day songs, part II view post 
  • remembrance day songs view post

the last remembrance day song for 2007: canto libre by victor jara

yesterday i promised you a translation of victor jara’s canto libre. here it is (and here is the MP3 version).

dove of peace

my verse is a dove
looking for a place to nest.
and with a roar it opens its wings
to fly, to fly.


my song is free
and wants to give itself
to whoever opens his hand
yearning to set the world free.


my song is a chain
without beginning, without an end,
and every link contains
the song of everyone else.


let’s never stop singing together
to all humanity.


a song is a dove
who flies so that it may discover.
with a thunder it opens its wings
to fly, to fly.


my song is a free song.

(image by mafleen)