War can be viewed in several contrasting perspectives, or through multiple varying lenses. Despite this, the common factors are the astronomical amounts of death, the lengthy resolution processes, and the mourning period families have to go through after losing their loved ones. However, we don’t tend to see this side of war. It’s often portrayed as courageous young men fighting for the country they love. Although we acknowledge the unpleasant and devastating outcomes of war, the patriotic biases generally outweigh the true, tragic nature. During this unit, I discovered not only the patriotic or negative stances on war, but also approaches I would have never thought to consider.
Reading All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, allowed me to get a glimpse into the life of a soldier, which was quite eye-opening. Throughout the novel, there was a definite development between certain characters, as the soldiers’ relationships transformed from friendships, to brotherhood. The strength of their bonds are so powerful, that we start to observe the characters become more afraid for each other in combat, than themselves, as we see in the following scene:
I become gloomy: I will be away for six weeks– that is lucky of course, but what may happen before I get back? Shall I meet these fellows again? Already Haie and Kemmerich have gone– who will the next be? (p.152)
This passage demonstrates only a fraction the distress soldiers faced due to their rapidly changing lives, and the destruction they may face at any given moment. Often times, when looking at different wars, we look at them in a very broad, abstract, almost apathetic way. We don’t dwell on or even consider the individual lives that were turned upside down, because it’s much too difficult to make such a traumatic and catastrophic event personal. It would tear us down… but perhaps it should. Now, I’m not proposing that we inflict emotional suffering on ourselves. Nevertheless, perhaps the traditions of only honouring the success of the war needs to be balanced with more recognition and appreciation of what the soldiers and families lost.
After having the opportunity to read the varying poems, I began to understand the different impacts the war had on people. In Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen, I found an apparent tone of resentment, and a very rough sound that conveys the narrator’s view perfectly. The language used provokes a very negative, seemingly angry response in the reader, which I believe was the author’s aim when forming the diction:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
The expressions used, in particular old beggars, and coughing like hags, are very aggressive, which reveals the pain the war caused for the narrator. I also observed that the sentence is broken up in multiple places, creating a jagged and abrupt sound when reading it. This poem demonstrates a very raw, painful take on the war, whereas if you were to look at In Flanders Fields, by John McRae, there is a much more peaceful, serene and woeful outlook, such as in these lines:
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
It’s interesting to compare, because it seems that the more vague the poem is, such as In Flanders Fields, the more it ties into patriotism, whereas the more detailed and thorough, the more gut-wrenching. This theory ties into what I mentioned early, about how we tend to focus on war as very vague, and far-away, which is potentially why we end up making it much more patriotic than it should be. I recognize that patriotism can be a good thing in many scenarios. However, when holding a ceremony titled “Remembrance Day”, I feel it is important to share more than that very one-sided opinion.
The more we educate ourselves on war, the more we deepen our understanding, which allows us to come to our own conclusions about it. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions about these events, not just mine. I strongly believe that knowledge is power, which is why I don’t think the war should be remembered in a certain, specific way. The more resources we have, the more we’re taught, the more informed our beliefs become. This literature has absolutely influenced and altered my conclusions, but now I’m truly able to understand and justify my opinions. Personally, I sit in between the two extremes, because I feel that certain details are too gruesome to share. Nevertheless, it is very important to understand the struggles the soldiers faced in order to make our country the safe, free, and peaceful nation it is today.
Following the same idea, in order to prevent a future war, we must promote the education of past wars, what caused them, and how much havoc they resulted in. We’re constantly encouraged to learn from our mistakes, and this happens to directly apply to this situation. As long as we continue to comprehend what we did poorly and successfully, we will be able to keep Canada a safe place. It’s definitely more complicated than that for leaders, because it’s extremely challenging to please everyone. Even so, that’s why it’s so advantageous for our nation to embrace diversity.
In a Remembrance Day ceremony, I would maintain certain traditions, but alter others. I have attended a ceremony at a cemetery before, and I found it much more meaningful. There is a program, called “No stone left alone”, which I think is a very good idea for Remembrance Day. The idea is to honour the individual soldiers, by putting a poppy on each one of their graves. I feel this is very important, because the individual lives aren’t as recognized as I believe they should be. We’re talking about people, who fought to protect us. It’s important to realize how much they sacrificed, and hoe much they went through, which is why I would read To His Love, Perhaps, and Anthem for Doomed Youth. I believe those poems are very honest, and they capture the sadness, while also expressing what the soldiers went through.
I don’t agree with a reading of In Flanders Fields, because we need to stop the glorification of the war, not encourage it. Yes, we’re fortunate to have freedom, and yes this is due to the war. Despite that, it’s not something we should be celebrating in the slightest. We should not be proud of the war, we should be relieved we aren’t obligated to fight in one now. We lost so many lives, which need to be valued, which is why I would make a Remembrance Day ceremony individual-orientated, rather than remembering the war itself.
I strongly believe that this is the way we should be honouring the soldiers, yet avoiding all glorification, as in the end, that’s what this day is all about.