In elementary school students are told to wear poppies, stand, and take their hats off for a moment of silence. They’re ushered into a crowded auditorium or gym and sit listening as adults, often veterans, and recount stories of war. These are the common memories of Remembrance Day, and perhaps the definition for many people. But many don’t know what or why they are remembering or the importance of it.
“I think its part of our history in terms of how [our country] came to be,” says Tarah Brookfield, a contemporary studies professor at Laurier Brantford, who researches and teaches on topics related to war. Many people think of the veterans and how they fought valiantly for our country when they think of what November 11 means. What many people don’t think about is how lucky Canadians are to have fought so few battles on home soil. In fact, the last war fought in Canada was the War of 1812.
Professor Brookfield recently travelled with other Laurier professors and students to France and Belgium, on a tour known as The Cleghorn Battlefield Tour. The group explored many of the important war memorials and battlefields, such as Normandy. Brookfield says remembrance in Europe is much different than here is North America because the citizens’ land and families were affected in some form by war. Many of the small communities in France celebrate together on the anniversaries of major events to remember their friends and family who were lost in battle.
“It’s important to have that one day, but it’s also important to understand that people remember in different ways,” says Brookfield.
However, it wasn’t just soldiers who fought in the wars; there were many more civilian than soldier fatalities. Professor Brookfield’s studies concentrate on women and children in war.
“I think we need to take a moment to remember those lives lost and saved by these conflicts,” she says, “not just men and women in uniform, but those who can’t escape war because it’s in their own backyard.”
But remembering isn’t necessarily sentimental, or simple.
“Remembrance Day has become a complicated event,” Brookfield explains. There has been a shift in how people view Remembrance Day, especially in terms of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. Brookfield says that after the World Wars, people knew who they were remembering, whether it was a friend or loved one lost, or they were happy for peace. But current wars often seem endless, and many people disagree with the reasons the troops are involved in some countries and feel they should be brought home. Recently, there has been a change in feeling towards the idea of what a soldier is and the politics surrounding these wars.
“People in North America became very uncomfortable with our soldiers going to other nations and maybe not being invited,” says Brookfield.
Canada’s involvement in Iraq was not a war effort, but one of rebuilding. The goal of our mission was to help train Iraqi police officers, and to help rebuild after the American and British invasion.
While Canada never issued a declaration of war, there was a small group of the Canadian Forces who actively served in Iraq. In Afghanistan, Canada was not a major force for the first few months.
Canadian troops began arriving in the country between January and February 2002. In 2006, the troops were redeployed into the Kandahar region, a major step in our involvement in the war. There are currently between 2500 and 2830 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, and there are plans to remove most of the troops from the country in 2011. Since 2002, 152 Canadian troops and four civilians have died in Afghanistan.
What’s important to keep in mind is that everyone remembers these things in a different way. There are many reasons to celebrate Remembrance Day: for the peace that came from war, for the lives lost, and for those who continue to fight today. Brookfield suggests yet another reason,
“[We should] take comfort that good spirit still prevails.”
If anyone is interested in the Cleghorn Battlefield Tour Study, please email Tarah Brookfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.