Thoughts about emerging truths
I mean no disrespect. I feel strongly that there have been places and times on this troubled planet when violence as a response to imperialism or hegemony has been justified, when the call to arms for some society was justly sounded and bravely heeded. I hold the greatest respect for people who have given of their time, effort and even life in order that others may enjoy freedom, justice, the rule of law and all the opportunity that a just society should afford.
I’ll not digress into paths that attempt to define using semantics the terms ‘justified’, ‘response’ or ‘imperialism’. This kind of approach is symptomatic of part of the problem (as I see it).
But I will say my heart has no tolerance for the continuation of dangerous, ambiguous ideals; an affront to my peace of mind, a question left hanging by omission, a word unsaid.
I’m getting older and less patient and I need to start questioning some of these things. Out loud. So let me say this, the phrase ‘lest we forget’ has always bothered me, and here is why; forget what?
If you look into this statement you can break it into the proper pieces and extract an issue. The issue is – ‘Lest’. Lest can be clarified thus; ‘for fear that’, ‘fear that a thing might happen’, yet, in this instance it’s used without an object; while citing ‘for fear that’, what is ‘that’? Lest we forget…’what?’
Lest we forget any absurd notion that would perpetuate an idea that men or boys need to die in war? No. It can’t be. This is something we need to forget; or something that should be changed. Nobody needs to die in war.
Lest we forget that men died in defense of freedom? Fair. This should not be forgotten. But it needs to be qualified, in order that it not be stolen. Misinterpreted. This is too important to allow a hole in the logic or an ambiguous moment. It can be usurped.
What is this message missing? Lest we forget that good men died and be especially vigilant against anyone who would treat lightly that fact. Watch for war mongers – they will use ‘lest we forget’ to train tolerance of a vulgar idea. Lest we forget any soul that has passed in the service of some intangible, machine-driven ideal. A misguided, hate-based fear machine. We should never forget this.
What exactly threatens freedom now. Exactly where, what and how? And especially, why?
An example of my uneasiness surrounding this question is visible at the Calgary Military Museum. On the grounds adjacent to Crowchild Trail there is a rusted iron girder on pedestal footings, a piece of the World Trade Center on display as part of a military (assumed by the location) installation of some sort. I feel this is incongruous. It’s displayed as if there were some grand battle during which an outcome was decided favorably between forces of good and evil. But this not the case. The closest reality I can conjure to explain the existence of this memorial is that some insane people lashed out against a society that represents repression to them, and now that society wishes it could bomb the shit out of their country in retaliation; and as everyone agrees, thus the display. But there is much hidden behind these ideas that has not been brought to light. There is ambiguity in purpose for the aggressors no matter in which direction you look. And this is a hallmark of sabre rattling.
So I have a problem with ‘lest we forget’. I want a different idea – I want ‘lest we don’t question wars.’ Lest we don’t call to task those who beat drums. Without reservation. Make them drown in definition and semantics before they kill people; children – ours – or someone else’s.
I will reiterate here – I can respect anyone on any ‘side’ who has given life in belief of a universally understood ideal. The idea of freedom for instance. And especially for boys who aren’t old enough to see the gravity of the thing. Boys who are tricked by rhetoric. But my thoughts here are so incidental to this issue. There are many thinkers who have gone much deeper than me, and I can’t imagine that my thoughts are near adequate for this task. I keep wondering, ‘Why is this idea not self-evident’. So, I decided to just let them come. The thoughts and the people. The boys.
I kept them in mind today. At 11am – the time for silence and remembering, I was on the field out front with my son, throwing a baseball. I watched 100 times as the ball flew from his hand. I watched 100 times the parabola of flight. I felt as many times the twinge of uncertainty – watched my mind calculate the trajectory and felt my hand move to the proper place in the sky to stop this object – a loud smack on the leather mitt. I made myself try to feel that instant, the very instant of impact, and realized – it didn’t exist. It happens too fast. The ball arrives violently, and all that’s left is relief and pride. I watched 100 times as my arm swung in rhythm to return the ball in some practiced equation, and I watched it spin away in nearly a straight line – a man’s pitch – hard, fast and true. And I watched my son navigate the moments of doubt, assumption, insistence and courage between the throw and catch – SMACK!
And I invited in all the souls lost and denied as part of any grand, patriotic lie.
I conjured them, I asked them to occupy me, infest my heart, my mind and my spirit. Pack in here, all – look out of my eyes. I asked them to watch the spin of the ball, the line of the arc, the uncertainty of the fall – again 100 times, and I asked them to attempt to define the moment of impact of that projectile.
They couldn’t do it either.
And then something funny. I asked them if they wanted ‘remembering’. I asked if it was necessary to extend this ‘lest we forget’ ritual.
They didn’t seem to care. They loved that they were invited to throw, catch and feel the breeze on a chilled fall morning. They noted that my son had youth and was ready to become a man. They loved that we know how to throw and catch, but they didn’t have regret.
They told me that the fear, the sadness, the guilt and the anger; these are all ours; that ‘they’ are something else now, and have always been. They don’t have regret. They have no care that can be shared with us.
They told me that we should not feel pain for them. We should instead feel shame that one living person has been tricked into awaiting an uncertain, impersonal fate in a human body while holding in their heart fear and anger, or in their manipulated hands a weapon of war.
And who holds the torch for this ceremony? Would these dead souls, if they could, hold this torch? How can their living brethren, the ‘brothers in arms’ allow ambiguity? Lest we forget? What, exactly are we not allowed to forget? Put your cards on the table and define this every day – every moment, lest you beat a drum without just cause, you legionnaires.
I have a very hard time with Remembrance day.