Tag Archives: soldiers

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.

remembrance day songs for a different kind of soldier

don’t know why remembrance day fascinates me so – at any rate, here’s another post about it, following the one last week and this and this last year.

today i’d like to honour some soldiers for peace and democracy who died upholding their convictions.

  • ephialtes, a fighter for democracy 400 BCE
  • martin luther king, fighter for racial equality
  • gregoris lambrakis, greek anti-fascist and inspiration for the movie “Z”
  • mahatma gandhi, non-violent anti-imperialist and indian president
  • bishop oscar romero, liberation theologist from el salvador
  • john lennon, activist and ex-beatle
  • victor jara, chilean poet, singer-songwriter, educator and political activist
  • john f. kennedy, US president

two of them made music, wrote songs. here’s one by john lennon:

we are all water from
different rivers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
we are all water in this vast,
vast ocean
someday we’ll evaporate

there may be not much
between rockefeller and you
if we hear you sing.

there may be not much
between rockefeller and you
if we show our dreams

the other one is victor jara. watch this youtube video, it shows his beautiful and very distinctive voice and guitar playing. victor jara was a bit of a national hero – the way poets and musicians are heroes in south america – i wish we had such a culture here!

he died shortly after the coup in chile on september 11, 1973. he was one of thousands of people rounded up by the military, tortured and killed.

one of the many songs that i’d like to remember him for is canto libre. i couldn’t find any translation of it into english here on the internet so i’ll work on that and serve it up to you tomorrow.