Remembering the fallen without glorifying war

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News, CCN] – There may be glory in what was accomplished on the battlefields that preserved the way of life we hold so dear today, and for those who made it happen, but make no mistake — there is no glory in war.

“We need to know, as Canadians, what accomplishments were made, but also (recognize) war is not something to be glorified,” said Steven Clark, national executive director for the Royal Canadian Legion. “We need to understand why it happened, and we must take steps to ensure it never happens again.”

Clark shared with The Catholic Register some of the important messages his organization seeks to impart as we come upon Remembrance Day on Nov. 11, memorializing those who served and those who gave their lives so we could remain free.

Saskatoon Remembrance Day Service is again online: LINK

Legion branches have for years co-ordinated veterans’ visits with Catholic and public schools from coast-to-coast and that has proven to be one of the most effective wellsprings in imparting the importance of Remembrance Day to younger generations. For the second year running though, COVID-19 restrictions are complicating this tradition.

“Normally, schools are very open to have veterans come in to speak about their experiences, talk about the importance of remembrance, but it just wasn’t possible last year and it’s impacting this year as well,” said Clark, a former director of the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa.

Several initiatives have been established to combat this lack of access. The organization is continuing its annual poster (colour, and black and white) and literary (essay and poem) contests for primary and secondary school students to foster a spirit of commemoration.

“It is a chance to explain and express what Remembrance Day means to you,” said Clark. “We have 100,000 students participate in the contest each year, which is so encouraging.”

There is also an awareness that efforts need to be made to meet Canadians where they are in a digital world. So the Royal Canadian Legion is connecting with youth using the creative platform of the popular combat video game Fortnite. A special “Remembrance Island” game was established, but with none of the standard fighting and weaponry one would experience in a traditional Fortnite game.

Instead, players travel throughout the game environment to discover over “30 museum-like info panels” to enhance their knowledge of Canadian contributions in historical global conflicts. First World War trenches, the D-Day beaches at Normandy and a Canadian military cemetery are some of the environments re-created for the game.

Clark said Catholics young and old would be rewarded if they researched the role of faith during these historic wars. Many soldiers turned to their belief in God to help them endure the horrors they experienced on the frontlines and living in some of the most inhospitable environments imaginable.

Learning about military chaplains is also a worthwhile pursuit, says Clark.

“The spiritual nature of the leaders and padres in the field was an inspiration to those serving and provided them some comfort as they recognized their loss after a particular battle, and also gave them the strength heading into a battle,” he said.

A distinct element of Remembrance Day 2021 will be the 100th anniversary of the most powerful symbol of remembrance: the red poppy.

“It is a visual pledge that I will never forget,” said Clark. “The poppy (campaigns) focus on ensuring the veterans who served receive the benevolent comfort and care that we need, and also that we promote the service and sacrifice of those who have fallen.”

Clark said he, like many Canadians, wears a poppy for his own personal reason.

He shared a powerful account of visiting the Normandy landing locations in 2005 in the company of a man who fought in the conflict over 61 years before, and who laid on the beach injured for over 24 hours before being discovered and receiving medical care. This man’s wife informed Clark that her husband had been wracked by nightmares for years.

“He was back for the first time in 60 years, and he was looking up at the shoreline and the houses that were there when he was first there. It was unbelievable when you looked at his face. I could not even imagine what was going through his mind.”

Speaking to the soldier’s wife six months later, Clark discovered the veteran was no longer experiencing nightmares since that return visit. He achieved an inward peace in the months before his death.

Clark implores Canadians of all ages to partake in Remembrance Day this year, but he particular wants younger Canadians to “talk about it in class, with your parents, visit a cenotaph, watch a ceremony.” If none of that is possible, he hopes they could each pause for two minutes on Nov. 11 to pay respects to Canada’s heroes.