Dilemmas and discomforts on Remembrance Day

By Mark Tymm, MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern. Mark is an Anabaptist of Northern Irish/Canadian descent, a musician, and a graduate of Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC.

It’s hard to believe my time here in Ottawa has almost reached the half-way point. As part of my learning experience, I am often given opportunities to attend events around town, such as public lectures  organized by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, or the Ottawa Peace Festival, and Question Period at the House of Commons. One such event was a conference entitled Peacebuilding: Negotiate, Organize, Intervene at the Canadian War Museum.

???????????????????????????????The Canadian War Museum was opened in its current location in May 2005. It is a unique building and was designed by Raymond Moriyama who, as a child, was confined to an internment camp during WWII. I pass the museum every day on my way to the MCC Ottawa Office. It’s a modern building, and echoes the terrible realities of war. The textured concrete walls and roof look a bit like a bunker, but the roof is partially-covered in grass, supposedly representing regeneration. The small windows on the most prominent peak spell “Lest we forget” and “N’oublions jamais” in Morse code. The building certainly reminds viewers of many aspects of Canada’s involvement in armed conflicts.

The museum is currently hosting Peace: The Exhibition, which prompted (and provided the organizational structure for) this one-day conference. The event featured three panel discussions by some of the biggest names in Canadian peace operations and analysis, such as Paul Heinbecker, Peggy Mason, Douglas Roche, and General John de Chastelain. The panel discussed a wide variety of topics: civilian involvement in a particular conflict, personal reflections on a historical event, and even the personal letters of Lester B. Pearson and his son during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Perhaps the most significant understanding I walked away with was the sense that non-violent approaches to conflict resolution are not popular. No matter the background of the panelist (military, academic, political, diplomatic), all affirmed the use of military force in some form or other. Clearly, the traditional pacifist convictions held by many Anabaptists are shared by only a minority of Canadians.

IMG1026With this recent personal history I got onto the bus today, stepping past a familiar yellow ribbon beside the door with the words, “Support our Troops.” The phrase has been echoing in my head throughout the day. As we approach Remembrance Day, I have been faced with this struggle. “Support our Troops.” Does that mean supporting a war? Does that mean supporting violence?

Yes of course I support our troops; that’s why I want them to come home and stop fighting.

When it comes to Remembrance Day, it’s hard to know what to say. Our government would like us to remember veterans as heroes. It calls Canadians “people of peace,” but then it commits us to a lengthy and costly war in Afghanistan, touts Canada’s military heritage and history, and orders $2 billion worth of Close Combat Vehicles.

War is a sensitive topic; many of us have lost friends and relatives to armed conflict. Many of us have friends or family who have served or are serving in the Canadian Forces. It is important on Remembrance Day to mourn with those who mourn. At the same time, it’s important to remember that we are calling for an end to violence and offering other solutions.

Peace PacketIn past years, as a pacifist I have been incredibly uncomfortable with Remembrance Day. This year though I am reminded that although I do not embrace violence, I have been called to offer comfort to victims of violence, to offer to be a beacon of peace. After all, as we are reminded in MCC’s recent Peace Sunday resource,we have been given a ministry of reconciliation.

Can we remember those that have died fighting and appreciate their sacrifice while disagreeing with their means? What about remembering the One who faced violence and death and yet asked for forgiveness for his killers?


4 thoughts on “Dilemmas and discomforts on Remembrance Day

  1. It is sad to me the the meaning of Nov. 11th has been lost. It was the date of the Armistice, the end of the fighting in WWI which was originally celebrated.

    Here in the States, Pres. Eisenhower broadened its celebration by making it “Veteran’s Day” in 1954. In the late 1960s, Congress changed the date in order to create a 3 day weekend. And a decade later, Congress changed it back to Nov. 11th because the WW1 vets had not forgotten the significance and held the politicians feet to the fire.

    [And, originally, the celebration of the end of the war broke out on 7 November due to pre-mature reports of the end.]

    A few years ago, a poppy at this time prompted me to finish work on a reflection on the Christmas truce of WWI. It is a short book. I would be glad to send you the pdf.of Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914

  2. I also have great discomfort with this day. I have such a hard time reconciling the idea that soldiers who are fighting a war somewhere else are doing so for my freedom here in Canada. that’s the message i always hear. I have many friends whose Facebook pages today will have photos of poppies and the words “lest we forget” – to remind us that soldiers made this great sacrifice for us. what i choose to remember, is that war is evil, that at the end of the day, it’s sad enough that soldiers lose their lives but how many unarmed civilians also pay the price for decisions they had no part in? in most cases, a soldier chooses his fate, civilians, children, don’t. how do Christians reconcile the ideas that war is a necessary evil and the words of Jesus “love your enemies”? what does that even look like on a global scale?


  4. Pingback: A gentle nonconformity |

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