My grandfather served during the Second World War. He never talked about it; we never asked. I think one got the impression that doing so would provoke memories or feelings that would be too much for any sane person to bear. I doubt many came back the same as when they left. I also doubt whether we could ever comprehend the emotional baggage that some would carry for the rest of their lives. The price that was paid… not only in physical life, but the psychological lives of those who were lucky enough to return home. As a psychologist, I find myself thinking about what these human minds had to endure; what it cost them and their families. The men that fought in the World Wars were different from those of today. Many were drafted. Many more volunteered because they felt it was the right thing to do. These could have been tradesmen, teachers, or intellectuals. I find myself thinking “Could I do what many of these men had to do?” My mind goes to the historical facts, the stories, the tragic and at times horrifying images… I feel a lump in my throat. “I don’t know.”
Our duty to ‘Remember’ must be more than a rational summoning of historical facts, or a consciously shallow, or token acknowledgement, of sacrifice made during years in so many ways distant from our own. It is all too easy to say: “Yes, I remember,” or “Yes, I understand the sacrifice,” without pausing long enough to appreciate what that means. It often becomes: “Yes, I understand what Remembrance Day is about and we get a day off work/classes… is the mall open? What’s on TV? I finally have time to rake the leaves,” and so on. In order to understand the sacrifices… in order to hold onto the meaning, I believe we must evoke some feeling as we reflect on the tragedies of the wars that had to be fought: racism, intolerance, hatred, and genocide; state-sanctioned murder; young men and in many cases mere boys… mutilating one another in the name of their state ideology and utopian ideals… sold to them through propaganda that would also spread dogma, fear, and ignorance.
We must remain physically and emotionally uncomfortable with what transpired – we must allow ourselves to remain moved by it; we cannot afford to be apathetic… to think that these things could never happen again… that our civilized and modern society has ‘progressed’ beyond these capacities. Those who served had the courage to put their lives on the line to fight for our humanity. We must have the courage to use our intellect, with the freedom they protected, to ensure these things never happen again… to ensure that we do not find ourselves either victims or executioners in the machine of war. Forgetting comes at too high a cost and does a great disservice to those who paid for our freedom with their lives; freedom of speech, religion, and ideas; freedom to choose how we live our lives. The time that many of us so freely waste, has been paid for in blood. Are we comfortable with that? Are we taking it for granted? Have we forgotten already? This is a time to not only to reflect on the price of freedom, but also to ask ourselves the difficult question: “what are we doing with it?”