War Memorial in Ottawa

Memory, especially collective memory, is a weak and fractured thing.


Today is Remembrance Day. As is the tradition following the Great War (later known as the First World War), we gather at cenotaphs and war memorials to have a moment to mourn the lost soldiers; the boys who never came home. I often hear about how the wars are to protect freedom and democracy. The Great War was fought over many things, foremost the grandeur and pride of empire, of which Canada was only one of the commonwealth dominions (we didn’t choose to go to war).

Canada has many veterans from many wars and conflicts, even though it is the centennial this year for the commencement of the “war to end all wars.” Today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour is the anniversary of the 1918 armistice – the end of the war that was hoped to be over by Christmas of 1914. Although, to be fair, I do not think any of us expected to go to war in Afghanistan and still have soldiers in the country over a decade later.

Two minutes of silence turned into blog post.


As a Canadian History student I was always fascinated by the way the wars overseas changed us here on the home front. While there have been threats to our land, they have been infrequent, minor or catastrophe was, thankfully, adverted. Regardless, violence is not entirely as foreign to Canada as we would like it to be.[1]

Canada also has stains on its record. Canada turned back a boat of Jewish refugees in 1939, and ‘relocated’ Canadians of Japanese, German and Italian decent during the Second World War out of fear that they may be enemy sympathizers. The RCMP had a program nicknamed the “Fruit Machine” during the Cold War that sought out and fired anyone in the civil service who was suspected to be GLBTQ out of fear that Russian spies would more easily blackmail them – ruining people’s careers and reputations.


Only three weeks ago, a soldier of the ceremonial guard lost his life at the National War Memorial, Cpl. Nathan Frank Cirillo,[2] He was not a soldier at war, and I most highly doubt that he was prepared to die. Despite the Prime Minister’s speech, there was not threat from outside.

The shooter was Canadian. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who was by some accounts a deeply troubled, but sane and remorseful man who struggled with a terrible addiction.[3] I just wonder if he had had better access to rehabilitation services to battle his addictions and personal demons that perhaps he would never have committed murder nor brought the threat of violence to the nation through the spaces of Canadian democratic proceedings; the parliament buildings.

It is impossible to know what he was thinking, what motivated him, or what reasons he had – not that these justify – but perhaps if we understood, we could address those underlying issues by better, peaceful means, including tolerance for diversity of faith.[4]


This morning 50,000 people flocked to the ceremony,[5] but I wasn’t one of them. I observed my moments of silence. I spent much of the day writing this blog and contemplating the meaning of remembrance.

War is for peace but is peace only the silence of the grave?

War is for democracy, but then there is conscription.

War is for freedom, but is it?

I do not doubt that violence and militarism are good for imperialism, for economies, for security and for defence. Yet, I do question the rhetoric, don’t you?

[1] http://marika-morris.info/2014/10/24/has-canada-really-lost-its-innocence-in-the-war-memorialparliament-hill-attack-in-ottawa/

[2] http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/soldier-killed-at-national-war-memorial-mourned-as-caring-father-animal-lover-1.2065980

[3] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ottawa-gunman-was-drug-addict-acquaintances-at-shelters-say/article21273168/ and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/previous-assessment-described-ottawa-shooter-as-deeply-troubled-but-not-mentally-ill/article21277933/

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/taslim-jaffer/muslim-ottawa-shooting-_b_6043348.html

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/remembrance-day-draws-huge-crowds-as-national-war-memorial-rededicated-1.2831009