Every now and then I'm struck by a major cultural difference between the United States and my home and native land. November the 11th is certainly one of those times. Today I spent half an hour watching the services going on in Ottawa, because there wasn't anywhere here paying attention. Judging by one comment I saw on Facebook today, I feel as though perhaps I wouldn't have wanted to go anyhow.
"Happy Veterans' Day" it said. I think that's missing the point.
Today isn't a day for flag-waving, for patriotism, for nationalism. In Canada we call it "Remembrance Day," and it's a time for just that: remembrance.
We remember those who served: those who died and those who lived, forever changed by the service that we asked of them. We remember that war is not glorious, it is not heroic, it is not fair. We remember that those of us who have not fought are ourselves in some measure responsible for the suffering of those who have. We remember that there is no price we can pay, that there are no words we can say, that can make up for their sacrifice. We cannot repay that debt with simple gratitude. We remember that war is and should be a measure of last resort, and we weigh its consequences with heavy hearts.
But it is right and necessary that we do this. Attention must be paid.
We do not say "happy" anything.
We say "we remember."
We say "Je me souviens."