Remembrance Day

11 November, 2007

There is no Remembrance Day down here in the US, but of course I still make note of it. I have no poppy to wear, but let me perform my own little act of remembrance here.

It’s typical on this day to hear lots of solemn speeches about “the noble sacrifice” of those who “died for our freedom” etc. It all starts to sound rather vapid, trite and meaningless after a while. So let’s take a moment to think about what Canadian soldiers have really died for.

Without Canadian efforts, the Nazis could very possibly have won the Second World War. The lifeline we extended across the Atlantic kept Britain in the fight, and eventually allowed it to serve as the platform for the liberation of Europe. It is no stretch to say that, had we chosen not to get involved, all of Europe could have fallen under the Nazi heel, and then we ourselves could have been under threat. The democracies of Europe owe their freedom in no small part to the sacrifices of Canadians, in the Atlantic, at Juno Beach, in the mountain passes of Italy and the fields of the Netherlands. We Canadians may be oblivious to this, but trust me, there are many in Europe who know the debt they owe.

The same is true in Korea. Canadian troops helped keep the communist north from overrunning the rest of the peninsula. Today, 50 million South Koreans enjoy a level of freedom and quality of life that is in stark contrast to the starvation and brutal oppression of the Kim Jong Il’s prison state. It’s a freedom they would not have if Canadians and others had not been willing to go to their defense.


In the latter half of the 20th century, Canadians invented peacekeeping, and participated in scores of missions around the world. It’s a common misconception that peacekeeping is peaceful, but that is often not the case. Though it was seldom reported in the press, dozens of Canadians were killed and many more injured in our various peacekeeping missions, through land mines, road accidents and enemy fire. It is tragic that these deaths are not just forgotten; they are completely unknown to most Canadians. That Canadians should be so enamored of peacekeeping, yet be oblivious of the price that some have paid for it, is utterly scandalous. These soldiers are just as deserving of our respect and gratitude as the veterans of any earlier war.

Entering the 21st century, ideological wars have been replaced with ethnic struggles, often characterized by levels of hatred and brutality that are incomprehensible to most Canadians. Peacekeeping has and is evolving, as earlier and stronger intervention is needed to prevent atrocities, often on a terrible scale as witnessed in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and others. Many Canadians decry our involvement in Afghanistan, but to do so is to ignore the crimes of the Taliban regime, and the suffering that would follow their return to power. Here again, as in so many other places, Canadians are giving their lives to defend the freedoms of others.

And that’s what I think is most remarkable of all. All nations honour their veterans and war dead, extolling their courage in rising to the defense of their country. But Canadians have never had to defend their country. Instead, when we’ve fought, it has been to defend others, and that’s something we should take to heart and be proud of. On this day, and on every day.

From little towns in a far land we came,

To save our honour and a world aflame.

By little towns in a far land we sleep,

And trust the world we won for you to keep!

– Canadian Memorial, Rudyard Kipling



  1. “The Canadians could take any trench, but God help me if I could get them to dig one.”

    I forget who said that but it was someone from WWI. I think it’s a pretty funny quote.

  2. Digging trenches. Heh. That was one of the things I liked about being short… I didn’t have to dig my trench quite as deep. = ]

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