A new perspective on Remembrance Day
By Jael Lodge
Every Nov. 11, the world stops for a moment and reflects on the past the events, the dead and the survivors of this century's wars.
However, as the gap widens between the present and the past, the issue of whether the youngest generations understand what they are supposed to be remembering arises. With the end of the cold war, focus has shifted to regional conflict and attempts for non-militaristic solutions. In light of these changes, the future form of Remembrance Day celebrations are under debate.
Peter Ambroziak, dominion secretary treasurer of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada says he feels many children today are ignorant to the importance of the day. "Teachers don't know much [about Remembrance Day] and people in the education system have let the ball drop."
Those in the education system suggest the change in Remembrance Day ceremonies is not so much a case of dropping the ball, but instead a shift in focus.
"It's a balance of the past, present and future," says Tom Burns, a grade 6 teacher at Northridge Public School in London. "We do some of the traditional things, like playing the "Last Post" and having the moment of silence, but we focus on looking ahead.
"'Aren't we lucky' is the point of view we take," continues Burns, noting instead of watching old film clips of the earlier wars, the students see slides of the devastation of modern war. "It shows the kids how fortunate they are to live in Canada."
"It's really hard for kids to relate [to the traditional ceremonies]," says Christine Giese, a grade 8 teacher at Masonville Public School in London.
"There are some people who still want to practice it in the conservative, traditional ways," she continues. "I think this might be more for the teachers than for the students."
The ceremonies at Masonville Public School focus on learning from the past instead of commemorating it. Giese describes the change as a shift from the heroic to the tragic and notes the new form of the ceremonies has received support within the school.
There are groups outside the education system which approve of this change in perspective. Grant Birks is the program associate for Project Ploughshares at Conrad Greble College at the University of Waterloo.
"We certainly don't deny the sacrifice that people made, but we emphasize that it should never happen again. Our reaction is to look back at it and examine what we could do differently."
Although Project Ploughshares doesn't set out to define what Remembrance Day should or should not be, Birk notes a change in the type of ceremony at which he is asked to speak.
"I've been asked to talk about land mines this year," he says. "I'm increasingly asked to talk along these lines at churches and assemblies."
Metta Spencer, editor of Peace Magazine, takes a more radical view of the day. "I have a problem with it because it seems to me it glorifies killing," she says.
About 10 years ago, Spencer spoke at a high school Remembrance Day ceremony. "We're here to remember the soldiers who died," she said to the audience. "But if all victims of war were treated as a part of the occasion and not just those that did the killing and may have themselves died, then I would feel better about it."
Spencer sees the importance placed on Nov. 11 fading with time. "If there aren't any more wars in which Canada's soldiers are involved, then I imagine there will be less attention to the day."
Not all schools, however, are changing their focus. At London's Oakridge Secondary School, ceremonies remain the same as they have been in previous years.
"It's mostly a focus on what happened," says Vilma Francois, coordinator of this year's events at Oakridge. "We have a traditional Remembrance Day. I've never seen one that looked different.
"What we're trying to do is remember the war and we haven't incorporated any other elements into it."
If the ceremonies haven't changed, the perspectives of students have. "Young people say that it's so far removed they can't relate," Francois says. "One student came to me and said that although she had relatives that had died in the war, it didn't seem to be something to which she could relate. The further removed [the students] are, the less real it seems."
As time marches on, it is apparent Remembrance Day will remain a part of Canada. Instead of strictly commemoration, attention is more focused on learning the lessons of war and looking ahead to the future.
"I want it to move more towards peace and reconciliation," Giese concludes.