Standing in front of the cenotaph that sits quietly in the foreground of Toronto's Old City Hall, the crowd of us that had gathered for the Remembrance Day ceremony waited politely for the Eleventh Hour to toll. Some muffled conversation murmured throughout the assembly, a few hundred strong, most remarking on the surprise respite of summer weather this late in the fall.
On the platform was the usual collection of dignitaries for the municipal ceremony, headed by Toronto's controversial Rob "Mayor McCheese" Ford. Regardless of one's political stripe, today was one of those days we set aside all our beefs and just remember those who've fought and died, the lives touched by war. Or at least that is the spirit that inspires days like today.
In recent years, however, Remembrance Day in Canada has become an opportunity for an irresponsible spectacle of fringe elements in the guise of social justice. White poppies, in contrast to the traditional red symbol worn over the heart, now appear on the breast of people who wish to call attention to ending conflict in both armed and the abstract forms. "End the Class Warfare," read posters on West End bus shelters. Articles like Susan Cole's piece Going to War Over Poppies, in NOW Magazine, agonize over the glorification of war:
I say it’s time for a new ceremony taking into account all those who suffer in war: the rape victims, the civilians who are bombed, displaced or murdered, as well as those men and woman in uniform sent into the fray by our governments. - Nov. 18th 2010.
Susan Cole believes all veteran's where something like this under their uniform.
With this in mind, I stood this November 11th in the presence of Veterans, members of our Armed Forces, civilians, politicians, etc. In the seconds before the clock struck Eleven, disembodied shouts came from just off to the west of the ceremony, voices of conscientious dissent, screaming "Shame! Shame on the violence! Shame on the aggression! Shame!"
A word from MP Olivia Chow.
Some of our citizens had chosen to exercise their freedom of speech. Their message, though just and sincere, was cut short as I assume they were shoo'd away by police and security just as the the bells tolled on the Eleventh Hour, of the Eleventh Day, of the Eleventh Month. Then silence, save the discreet tears among young and old, black, white, brown. I was sad too, but the angry voices moments ago had pushed into my head a new reason for a heavy heart.
The angry voices of protest had been directed at a crowd gathered to mourn, gathered at a funeral. And as we remembered the dead and destroyed lives left in the wake of a century of conflicts, we had been shouted down by people who didn't understand that we were in complete agreement. They were shouting at the victims of violence, not the instigators; for no one in that crowd nor in crowds in over 2000 ceremonies across the country that morning, had decided to send a Canadian boy or girl into harm's way.
No one in the crowd wanted to be there and all now prayed that as each year went by there would be less names to read out, less dates to memorialise in tragedy. But the voices shouting refused to see that it was their own comrades in sentiment at whom they spewed vitriol.
It began across the pond in Jolly Ol' England.
Just as the Occupy Wall Street movement attacked only the benefactors of bad economic policy instead of the creators thereof in their nation's capital, these voices belonged to young folks whose hearts were sincere but efforts misguided. They chose to focus on symptoms, not causes.
Like Susan Cole pleaded in her article, it is indeed time for a ceremony that recognizes all victims who suffer in war. And I invite her and the disembodied angry voices to join such a ceremony at the cenotaph on November Eleventh next year. I ask them to open their hearts for one hour, once a year, and put their sentiments into meaningful action and remember all victims of war as we who gathered.
Moving forward, they would be wise to recognize their allies when they see them and recall to their memory as their shouts did to mine, the words of Douglas MacArthur, that "The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."