Remembrance Day is not about the glorification of war.
There is no glory in war. There may be occasional isolated glorious actions. But the human conflicts we label “war” are for the most part hemmed in on every side by horror, terror, injustice, confusion, and the destruction of human life and community.
There are no winners in war.
Remembrance Day is not about identifying the bad guys and celebrating the triumph of the good guys over the powers of evil. The forces that have historically caused people to take up arms are complex and far too complicated to allow for a simple analysis that identifies my side as “good” and the other side only “bad.”
War never erupts in a vacuum. No matter how isolated and aberrant the circumstances that lead to violence may appear, they always ooze out of particular historical circumstances. We all share some responsibility for having created or at least allowed the fertile field in which the atrocities of war take root. No one is innocent in the face of violent conflicts that engulf the world.
War is always a defeat. War results from the failure of human community, the failure of diplomacy, the failure of world leaders, the failure of business leaders, academies, churches, media, even artists. We all share culpability for the horrors we remember on this day.
So, we do not remember in order to celebrate victory.
To truly “remember” is not only to call to mind the horrors of history, but to allow those horrors to hold a mirror to our own lives.
We remember in order that we might see the ways in which we are guilty of violence. We remember in order to search our own hearts and see honestly how we draw lines in the sand, how we exclude, abuse, dismiss, and devalue other people. We remember so we might be aware of those ways in which we fail to be respectful of those from whom we differ. We remember in order that we might see our own fears and determine we will not allow those fears to control our lives.
Etty Hillesum, who experienced the horrors of war in the Netherlands and died as one of the 66,000,000 casualties of the Second World War, wrote in her diary on Saturday 28 March 1942, two years before she was murdered in Auschwitz,
All disasters stem from us. Why is there a war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbor. Because I and my neighbor and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war and all its excresences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us and giving it a chance to live.
(Hillesum, Etty. Etty: The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943. Complete and Unabridged. ed. Klass A. D. Smelik. Trans. Arnold J. Pomerans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 2002, p. 307)
The events we acknowledge today challenge us to choose our better nature. We remember in order that we might return to love. We remember so we might choose gentleness and compassion. We remember in order to find our way to the calm steady assurance that is the nature of love at the centre of all life.
My life is the seedbed for hatred or the field in which peace is sown. May I choose to sow peace today.