Some thoughts for Remembrance Day. I have always worn a red poppy to remember all those who’s lives were affected by war. I read a Toronto Star article about the white poppy, and its pacifist roots. I don’t have any quarrel with those who wear the white poppy, although the phrase “war is stupid” struck me as reducing the idea too much. War is complex. I don’t like war, few of us do. I prefer the phrase “Give Peace a Chance.” Chance involves failures. We can fail at peace and then try again, and again.
Many of us only think of our soldiers on Remembrance Day. I understand that. Thinking of 17 and 18 year old boys getting on ships and sailing to England and eventually fighting and then dying while facing conditions I can only imagine is certainly worth remembering.
I also remember the millions of civilians whose lives ended or is affected by war. I think of the Queen Mother of England remaining in London out of solidarity with her subjects while bombs rained down. I also think of my grandmother is Bristol deciding which child to take to the bomb shelter first: my father or my aunt. She decided to leave my father since he was an infant and wouldn’t walk or crawl away while she carried the more mobile toddler. I also think of her husband, my grandfather, whose company, Bristol Aerospace, built many of the war machines that were dropping bombs on my relatives in Germany.
I think of my German grandfather, a career military man, who spent the 1930s conflicted between choosing between his country and his weariness towards the increasingly oppressive regime that was taking over his country. He had friends and contacts in England, and came close to leaving. He chose to remain loyal to his military and country. I think of a power-hungry politician who made incremental changes to Germany’s democratic constitution to slowly cement his position as a permanent leader and his use of terror and intimidation on his own population to push his own ideology and agenda. I also think of how much praise he got in England and North America before the war for being a potential ally against Communism. I read a book about the heads of the German and British spy agencies who were very close at negotiating a British-German alliance. War is complicated. I am also thankful that he attacked the Soviet Union against the advice of his generals, because if he didn’t Germany may have won the war.
These two men of war. One is easy to damn a perpetrator of hate and terror. I have visited Auschwitz and was invited by a Jewish man I met in Warsaw to accompany him to find his relatives’ graves in an abandoned Jewish cemetery. I will always remember. The other man is complex, like war. I sometimes damn him; I always think about him. Towards the end of the war, after a failed attempt on Hitler’s life, my grandfather’s life changed. He was demoted and sent from Berlin to the eastern front, which was rapidly retreating. He told my grandmother to take my mother and her siblings west into what would eventually become West Germany. They ended up close to the border. He knew exactly where that border would form. His life ended in mystery. One of my cousins did some research and discovered that a bomb went off while he and three other men were driving in a car. Only he perished. It is suspected he was assassinated for some role in the attempt on Hitler’s life. I wish I could say he was the head of the plot, but it appears that he simply knew of the plot, and remained silent in tacit support.
So don’t make remembrance day about t soldiers versus civilians. Make it about the affects of war and peace on all of us. It is about the end of war and remembering the cost of war.