Significance

The following post was shared at BICS’ Remembrance Day Ceremony – November 10, 2015.

The brain is always trying to determine the significance of everything we sense.

Is what we see important enough to process, think about and respond to? Or is it unimportant and an unnecessary distraction?

In the mountains, we try to determine how big and far away the peaks are. Closer to home, people wonder, or immediately panic, when considering the significance of a spider lurking in the sink. Is it a threat? And if so, how big a threat?

In World War One, 1914-1918, many historians suggest that Canadians who were thinking of joining the war effort in Europe underestimated the significance of this war. They knew it was important but didn’t know how long the fighting would last, or how vicious the fighting would be: increasingly vicious on land in the form of trenches, tanks and machine guns; on sea in the form of well-armed ships; and for the first time in history, the sky with airplanes and poisonous gases.

After the experience of World War One, people had a greater understanding of the significance of the terrifying and vicious forms of fighting. But soldiers still volunteered to join the effort of World War II, fighting in many regions of the world, risking injury, death and the fear of being treated most cruelly if captured.

And today, more than 100 years since the start of World War One, all of us in this ceremony try to understand the significance of these events. All across our country, Canadians take time and make the effort to remember those from the World Wars, and wars and conflicts since, who have joined the Canadian Military and risked their lives to defend the rights and freedoms which Canada considers fundamental to all human beings: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

I feel it is the duty of all Canadians to learn about and try to understand the sacrifices and efforts of Canadian soldiers. If they lived it, surely the least the rest of us can do is to learn about their efforts, to try to understand the significance of what people went through to defend freedom.

This is no easy task. It is challenging to comprehend the significance of the wars; the enormity of it all is truly hard to grasp.

Historians estimate that over sixty million people were killed in World War Two. Sixty million people. That was 3% of the world’s population at that time, meaning three out of every one hundred people died.

While our brains can do the math, I’m not sure our hearts have the capacity to truly understand that number. When you read of stories, and the Diary of Anne Frank is one many students will read in high school, and learn about an individual, their hopes and dreams, who they loved and who loved them, it is obvious the loss of one person is immense. It is truly staggering then to think of the 60 million people as individuals; individuals who had brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children who loved them.

The two world wars are of course sinking deeper into history. There are fewer storytellers to keep the history alive, but there is an incredible amount of literature on the world wars that has been written and continues to be written as well as some very powerful films. So while there may be fewer storytellers, there need not be fewer readers, listeners and viewers.

So let our ceremony of remembrance, and day of remembrance tomorrow, be purposeful in remembering the sacrifices of those who have served in Canada’s military and also a celebration of our country. Canada, like all countries, is not without faults, but we are incredibly privileged to live in a country where our freedoms are recognized and protected. They are valued so dearly that many Canadians have the courage and commitment needed to risk and sacrifice all to defend these values for their fellow Canadians and others around the world.

Take some time to remember and think of the significance of what was fought for that we now as Canadians benefit from: Freedoms of conscience and of religion, and that all Canadians are equal before and under the law, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age or mental or physical disability. We must not underestimate the significance of these freedoms and rights and the immense sacrifices that have secured them.

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