By Owen Charters
In the last couple of months, I’ve been wrestling with the issue of my boys playing with army toys and toy guns. It seems that no matter what a pacifist parent might try to control or contain, kids have a way of accessing these sorts of toys, or playing war. I remember the look of horror on my mother’s face when I arrived home from the city fair with a toy machine gun that I won in a game of chance. I recall that the options were either a doll or a plastic machine gun. My dad seemed to understand why I made the choice I did, but I think he also ducked sheepishly behind me as I proudly showed off my prize. The toy gun got good use until it eventually (and relatively quickly to my mother’s satisfaction, and like most carnival toys) broke and was discarded.
I’ve since done a bit of research about the influence of army toys and toy guns on kids, all of which seems to indicate that this is usually all harmless, and doesn’t create war-mongering adults. I’ve had to let my anxieties relax a bit, but I’m also cognizant that as a parent I need to ensure that my boys understand that glorifying war is not ok. Respecting those who serve on our behalf, however, is very important.
It’s especially relevant given that we are marking one hundred years since the end of the Great War. One hundred years ago, the great guns fell silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was the war to end all wars, and yet it didn’t. It was a terribly rude wake up call for the world’s nations about what war in the modern era was like, and what it could become.
One hundred years is many generations ago—the conceptualization of that war is increasingly distant in our memories, and will be with each passing generation. Remembrance Day is not about glorifying war (despite the amazement in my boys’ eyes as both old and modern military planes soar overhead and as cannons and guns fire to mark our losses on November 11). It is not about peace either, or the protest against war. It is about remembering those who served that we may live in a free country, in a society that has largely been free from the significant impact of war since the mid 1900s. It is about the feeling that wells up when you watch the incredibly moving ‘missing man’ formation that planes fly over cenotaphs across the country—remembering the many that never came back.
I worry that we are becoming too far removed from an understanding of the sacrifices of war, and we indeed may forget. Yet, as refugees knock on Canada’s door from war-torn countries, we have very real reminders that these sacrifices continue today. And that the Canadians who serve today do so at great risk to protect us and people around the globe. During YOUth in Office, the youth walked down the hall of prime ministers, past the portrait of Lester Pearson, architect of the United Nation’s blue-helmeted peacekeeping missions. We stopped dutifully to be reminded of this particular contribution by Canada to intervene in the chaos of conflict.
May all the generations to come remember. Lest they forget. Lest we forget.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.