Today, on Nov. 11, 2021, many Canadians will watch Remembrance Day ceremonies online, on television or in person. Many will pause for two minutes of silence as a sign of respect for those who served, and especially those who died in military service.
This is a day to consider our history as we ponder the terrible price of war.
Wars, whether within our lifetimes or earlier, affect those on all sides of the conflict as well as those who happen to be living in a conflict zone. Many families have stories of family members who served during a time of conflict. Some of these men and women died in action, altering these families forever. Others among us are from families who came to Canada as refugees, fleeing violence in another part of the world. Their stories are also important parts of the devastation of war. There are also people among us who were imprisoned during war, because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs or because their opinions or attitudes were contrary to the totalitarian society in which they lived.
These stories must not be forgotten. Our history matters, as it affects all of us.
This sombre tone is where thoughts on Remembrance Day should begin and end.
Sadly, I have noticed a disturbing tendency, increasing in recent years, to use imagery from past wars as a way to sound alarms about present conditions and potential future threats.
The comparisons often come from the Second World War era, from 1939 to 1945, and to a lesser degree from the Cold War and the threats between the United States and the former Soviet Union from the end of the Second World War until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
There is no shortage of comparisons and online memes equating a leader or policy today with a person or policy from either of those historic periods.
Such comparisons show a shallow understanding of history. Accounts of wars and conflicts must be seen as stories from our past, not as mirrors reflecting the present nor as blueprints for the future.
The Second World War began 82 years ago and ended 76 years ago. The Soviet Union collapsed 30 years ago.
The global structure of power today is not the same as it was in the years leading up to the Second World War, or in the decades following. While there are international tensions today, the details are different.
And technological advances over the years mean warfare today and tomorrow will not look the same as it did in previous years. At the start of the Second World War, nuclear weapons had not been developed. Today, several nations possess nuclear weapons. Other nations have non-nuclear weapons which can result in significant destruction and devastation.
Should another global war or significant international conflict occur, it would not and could not play out in the same way as past wars.
More importantly, comparing tragedies of past wars with present trends shows a disrespect to those who were affected by the wars.
Those who served, those who died, those who were imprisoned and those who were displaced as a result of wars need to be remembered for who they were. They do not deserve to have their stories used as rallying points to add fuel to a present outrage.
John Arendt is editor of the Summerland Review.
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