It isn’t just soldiers who we must remember on Remembrance Day.
War has a nasty way of scything down people who have nothing to do with the waging of it. The wars of the 20th and 21st centuries have had a tendency to kill civilians, or displace them, creating refugees by the millions.
Then there are the workers who found themselves on the front lines thanks to their professions. Traversing the North Atlantic always carried a bit of danger, but for merchant sailors from Canada in the 1940s, most of the risk came from hunting packs of German submarines.
There are the nurses and doctors, the conscientious objectors who hauled stretchers but wouldn’t pick up a gun. There are civilian allies, like the translators in Afghanistan, doing vital work. All in harm’s way.
Then there are the soldiers. They faced danger before ever reaching any front. Training accidents claimed many lives. Ships sank, planes were lost in bad weather, sometimes never found. Getting millions of people to practise using live ammunition, grenades, artillery, and bad luck will take a lethal toll.
And after all that, there is battle itself. There are Canadians still in Europe who were swallowed by the mud of Passchendaele, or who vanished into some canal in the Scheldt, shot or killed by shellfire, never recovered. Some died instantly, others in prison camps or hospitals days, weeks, months later.
We are getting very far from the reality of large-scale war, and we are starting to forget it.
There are fewer veterans every year.
Remembrance Day isn’t just about living memory. It’s about history – preserving memory so we can know, even now, what war is, and the terrible toll it takes. Even wars of self defence, or in defence of others, don’t leave glory. There’s no glory for those who don’t come home – soldiers, civilians, medics and doctors, workers, or children.