Today is Remembrance Day. In Canada and some other countries, people who choose to observe this day wear jaunty little poppies (or a poppy sticker) for the 2 weeks prior to 11 November — originally designed and produced to support wounded veterans. For context and for those who may not know, Remembrance Day was originally observed as a way to remember fallen soldiers in World War I. As time passed, this has been expanded to remember veterans and victims of various wars and to give thanks to the soldiers who survived. Most recently this includes soldiers who are currently serving, or who lost their lives in, Afghanistan.

From Veteran’s Affairs Canada:

We honour those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 1,500,000 Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 100,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.

I observe this day, as my family has had many military members serve in war or as peacekeepers. My grandfather served — and was wounded — on the beach of Normandy in WWII, my father served overseas (Cyprus, etc), my brother served in Afghanistan, and my husband is currently in Afghanistan. So you might say I’m a little emotionally invested in this subject. I can’t even watch the first scenes of Saving Private Ryan, knowing my grandfather was there (warning: disturbing imagery).

But I won’t elaborate on personal feelings towards this day…or discuss the political right/wrongness of it, as that is beyond our scope. Rather I’d like to briefly discuss two issues related to war that I hear vastly “not even wrong” statements about: Canada’s role in Afghanistan and the Holocaust.

Canada’s Role in Afghanistan
Unfortunately, generalizing the negativity of a controversial topic can be easier than separating the people from the politics. I have heard some wild claims about the war and troops in Afghanistan that have no basis in reality (an example of this below) and my husband has had people approach him while he’s in uniform on his way to work to accost him about the war …before he’d even been there. But regardless of the philosophical debate of the concept of “war” and the emotions that surround it, facts are facts. It’s irresponsible to form conclusions on any subject without first considering as many facts as possible.

There are legitimate concerns in any war, but remembrance and support for the troops (read: real actual people) does not condone war or ignore those concerns in any way. That is guilt by association (a form of ad hominem): Wars require troops, wars are bad, therefore troops are bad for fighting in wars. In fairness, I think fewer people are in this mindset after a heavy “Support the Troops” campaign and a bit of public backlash towards that attitude. Also, the perspective of “the collective” — The Army, The Troops — is difficult to maintain when a soldier is killed.

However, the Big Government perspective combined with lack of critical thought still apparently leads some to unsubstantiated accusations of conspiracy. For example, that participating armies are protecting opium for the American government and holding the line for their secret military strike force (click at your own risk). Making such claims without evidence ignores the actual problems for the people involved and is not productive.

Take some time today to read about the war in Afghanistan and remember the soldiers that serve there, their families at home, and the people of Afghanistan.

Holocaust Denial
When we deal with war, death, genocide, etc. we’re tapping into extreme horrors that can provoke a strong range of reactions. But regardless of all that, as with anything, there can be a reasonable interpretation of a situation based on evidence. To put it bluntly, the evidence simply does not support what many Holocaust deniers claim. And in this case, where the genocide was fairly recent and resulted in 6 million deaths, it can be very difficult to keep one’s cool when responding to deniers’ claims.

I bring up Holocaust denial briefly here simply to illustrate just how much it misses the point of…life. For example, today is partly to recall the horrors of the past in hopes that at some point we’ll get the message — i.e., “See how horrible this was? Well, stop doing this stuff to each other…jerks”. At the same time we can remind ourselves that similar horrors are happening right now, or at least in recent history.

How will they be remembered later? With the advent of modern documentation technology, we may think it is easier to provide evidence for global atrocities and things like Holocaust denial will become more difficult. But consider the difficulty we have even now of estimating the deaths in Darfur, for example, even though the world watched it happen.

When we revise history and ignore the bits we don’t like or don’t agree with, regardless of what the facts demonstrate, we prevent ourselves from learning an important lesson.

Regardless of political affiliations, personal views on war, and the obnoxious nationalism of these holidays, real people are involved in these wars — soldiers, war zone civilians, and families left at home. By distorting history and current events irrespective of the facts, we distort the contributions, sacrifices, and individuality of real people. So this Remembrance Day, you don’t have to participate, but if you have strong views on war and the military, take the time today to read carefully about the issues that concern you so that you’re sure these views are based on facts.

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.