I was sitting on the floor of the Korean War Museum when this picture was taken. We were in a long hall with plaques lining the walls on both sides. Behind me was the tablet that listed the names of the 516 Canadian soldiers killed in the Korean War.
I had travelled to South Korea with a contingent of veterans to revisit the battlefields they fought in more than half a century ago. For many of these vets, it was their first time back to this country and they were eager to see the rebuilt Korea while paying homage to the fallen.
The old soldiers pictured above were scanning the plaque to find the names of their comrades who were killed in this war – and it was a WAR as any Korean vet will tell you. Our South Korean hosts were extremely courteous to the vets who were quite proud to see that their sacrifice was honoured.
I have never been in the military, but I covered Canadian soldiers and veterans for more than three years. In this time, I have developed a new perspective for Remembrance Day. Firstly, it is a day to honour those who served their country – soldiers, sailors, airmen, and all who supplied the logistics to keep them marching, sailing, or flying. They did what their country asked them to do and many lost their lives, limbs, and minds doing so.
So wear your poppy, mark a moment’s silence, and show a little respect for our military.
However, for those of us who have never donned a uniform, this seems a half-hearted attempt at remembrance. Of course, the soldiers should be honoured for doing what soldiers do: follow orders. Said Tennyson in his famous poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
But where do these orders come from? The chain of command extends to the generals who receive their direction from their political masters who receive their mandate from the ballot box. Yes, it is important to honour, but it is also important to remember the responsibility we all hold in this equation. Should our soldiers be in Afghanistan? Should this mission be extended in some fashion? What is the cost in blood and treasure? Are we actually making a difference in this country or simply prolonging a civil war?
As in any conflict, there are many issues that need to be understood. Are we actually showing reverence to our current soldiers and those who served before them by relying on simple slogans to justify sending them to battle?
Our soldiers have done and will do their part. If we really want to treat them with respect, we must do ours.