Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Time For Reflection

I spent much of this morning attending a Remembrance Day (that's Veterans Day in the U.S.) ceremony at my son's school. He and a classmate from their seventh grade class emceed the event. Naturally, I wanted to be there to offer moral support. Both boys did an excellent job. My son stood straight and spoke clearly, with carefully articulated words and precisely nuanced inflections. As a doting father and a lover of words and language, I was very proud of him.

It was, overall, a moving experience. There was the customary recitation of "In Flanders Fields." Preceding a two-minute period of respectful silence for those who fought and fell in past wars, the Last Post was played.

Students, teachers and visitors alike, seemed to understand the gravity of the occasion and the historical and philosophical significance of the recognition of Remembrance Day.

Canadians fought valiantly in past wars. In World War II, they were part of the Allies (U.S., Britain, France, USSR, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia) fighting against the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria.) 46,542 Canadians died fighting the Axis in World War II.

Although I have long been a Canadian citizen, I was born in Germany at the end of World War II. How did I feel, sitting in a Canadian school, one of the vanquished among a congregation of victors? Yes, I know I didn't personally fight in the German Wehrmacht. Nor did my father. But some of my uncles did. Two uncles died while fighting the Allies.

Am I embittered? Am I resentful? Am I angry and filled with hate?


Am I considered unclean and unworthy by the parents of my son's friends, of whom some might have lost relatives while fighting the Nazis?

No. The war is over. What needed to be done, was done. The world rid itself of the tyrant Hitler and is now a better place as a result.

Life goes on.

Today, nearly 60 years after the end of World War II, the assault on Fallujah continues in Iraq. The butcher Saddam is long gone, but various Iraqi 'insurgents' continue fighting. Just as there were undoubtedly many Germans who resented the Allied trouncing of Hitler's Germany, there are now Iraqis who resent American intrusion in Iraq. Just as there were many more Germans who hated Hitler and everything he stood for, there are undoubtedly many more Iraqis who hate Saddam and who are glad to be rid of him.

The Germans, the Japanese, the Italians and the other Axis powers got over their defeat. Germany and Japan became economic powerhouses, thanks in no small part to American help and support. Many Iraqis will similarly get over the (take your pick: A. invasion or B. liberation) of Iraq and their offspring will benefit in the decades ahead.

But not all Iraqis will get over the defeat, at least not in the short term. There will be further trouble ahead. The Middle East appears to be a place where hatreds and grudges take a long, long, time to die.

Now, back to the ceremony at my son's school. As I was mentally congratulating the teachers and administration for putting on a ceremony devoid of political posturing, my son announced that there would be a performance of a short play called Sadako. As the children prepared to present the play, John Lennon's Imagine started playing on a boom box, and my heart sank.

I am a great Lennon fan. My band used to do Beatles covers many years ago. I admired his wit and his edginess. He was a gifted lyricist. He challenged us to think and we accepted the challenge. But, like many other entertainers, he saw the world in a simplistic way. Playing Imagine at a Remembrance Day ceremony was in extremely bad taste.


Consider the lyrics:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too ...

... Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Lennon's premise appears to be that nationalism and religion and property are the main causes of hatred and war. Interesting.

Nationalism? Let's grant him that one. I think that notion has merit. I can imagine a world in which there were no countries. I don't have much of a problem with that, philosophically.

But, would a world without religion necessarily be a better place? The premise appears to be that if there were no religion, people would all get along and have one less reason to hate each other. So, we would all be atheists. Homogeneity. Hmmm.

Maybe that would work. But couldn't we all be alike in other ways? What if we were all Buddhists? Hindus? Christians? Muslims?

Are we to believe that atheists or Buddhists or Hindus or Christians or Muslims never hate each other? I just don't buy that, do you?

What about the issue of property? How would it work if you didn't own your home or car or motorcycle? Communism cannot possibly work in any but the most primitive societies. Let's not waste any more time on that idea.

One more thing: Many soldiers in past wars fought 'for God and Country,' and would take exception to Lennon's anti-religious expressions while still defending his right to make them.

I think the song was in bad taste in that setting.

The Sadako play that followed was all about a 12-year old girl in Hiroshima, Japan, who fell ill and died of leukemia. The leukemia resulted from the "Little Boy" atom bomb dropped by the American, Enola Gay B-29 bomber on August 6, 1945. It is likely that Japan would have surrendered even with out the Hiroshima and subsequent Nagasaki bombings, but a Remembrance Day ceremony is not the place to raise the issue.

I applaud the teachers for giving the kids something to think about. The concern I have is that children are seldom given context and alternate points of view. Children need to know both sides of important issues so that they can form their own opinions, or at the very least understand why one position is desirable over another.

Overall, the ceremony was memorable. And that is what it was supposed to be, wasn't it?

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