Just What Is It We Remember? Part One
Remembrance Day is right around the corner so it may startle you to know that as a veteran I always hate this time of year; I have for 25 years now. Mostly because all I want to do year round is forget the trauma caused by service. But each year at this time I am asked to remember the sacrifice veterans have made in service to Canada. It’s a real tug of war, who knows better what has been sacrificed than a veteran, yet it’s the veterans that just want to forget what it has cost them.
I tried to stand on parade on Remembrance Day 20 plus years ago, but just couldn’t do it. At the time it wasn’t even the trauma I endured that stood between me and my duty. It was the endless barrage of shear ignorance that marched past me row on row. Not vicious or malevolent ignorance, intended to cause harm or disrespect, rather ignorance of the reason we stand on cold rainy November days to begin with. Growing up it was to remember the great wars, I remember all the focus on WW1 and 2 and the in depth time spent on knowing the “axis and allies” of Europe. Why we wear poppies and the immortalised poem “In Flanders Fields”.
In fact I spent a great deal of time in the military admiring the veterans of the 2nd World War. I was an Airborne Commando with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Our predecessors formed the original Special Service Forces which spear headed D-Day and most major battles following the invasion of Normandy. I was one of 50 soldiers to be selected to Jump into Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day and was able to meet and talk with several of the remaining veterans on what would be for many, their last trip to Normandy, where it all began for them. I recite all this so you understand I have the utmost respect and admiration for any veteran of any conflict that has risen to the challenge and paid the price for their service. Remembrance Day I have no problem with. But I sincerely question what we are being led to believe.
Since the great wars Canada has been involved in many other conflicts that pretty much get ignored. It began following the Korean War and followed through Cypress. Remember that childhood learning I mentioned. Never was the Korean War ever mentioned. I didn’t even know it existed until I was in my late teens and began to watch M*A*S*H on television. The trend today is no different. In the past 25 years we have been in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan, and it wasn’t until the suicides post Afghanistan that people even began to take notice or media to spend anytime mentioning or commenting on the numerous deaths that the Canadian Veterans were suffering. Even still, the focus became very narrow and scripted. It became about Afghanistan veterans and what they went through, never a mention on the 15 year history of suicides and death from 4 other conflicts.
On the surface it may be due to the number of Afghanistan Veteran Suicides, but guess what? They can’t tell you that for sure because no one knows the true numbers. I know from my own unit of 14 members 1 died within 2 years of Somalia, and of the remaining 13, all but one left the service early and have suffered significant trauma with losses of health, family and careers. My unit was a small specialised group that paired up with other larger units at the platoon and company level. Speaking with one of the guys from one of those platoons, he told me of how he started to contact his brothers but had to stop half way through his list. The number of suicides and messed up brothers was too much for him to handle and it was causing him to relapse in his own mental health.
Last year I attended the remembrance ceremony for the first time in over 20 years, and was shocked that they took the time to mention Afghanistan Veteran Suicide. And as I waited … the speech fell silent with no mention of the hundreds of suicides and trauma ridden veterans from Korea to Rwanda, No mention on the suffering of their families, children, wives, husbands, sons and daughters. No mention on those that were frozen out of their pensions post 2006 and how many of them are homeless on the streets. Not a word on the thousands suffering from traumatic injury to their bodies, brains and spirits. These are the things I spend an entire year every year trying to forget, only to spend an hour on Remembrance Day to experience how much we as a society have forgotten.