As a person dedicated to active peace-making, I wrestle with this day. I heartily agree with the sentiment “Lest we forget” – we should never forget that war is evil, that innocent people die in war because of decisions made that are out of their control, that soldiers are asked to do things and experience things that leave them deeply traumatized.
Today, I remember these things and I mourn.
Where my wrestling comes into play is with the concept of honour. I cannot dishonour soldiers – I know that they have chosen to enlist for a variety of reasons and one of those is the belief that by doing so, they are expressing loyalty and devotion to our country and to democracy. I respect that, I really do. My husband’s family is a military family; dad was a pilot in the Canadian Navy and mom served as a nurse. They met and married on a military base. Dad continued on in the military until he retired, mom left the military but continued with her career as a nurse. Dad passed away more than 10 years ago, mom is still alive and living across the country from me and I miss her. They were/are the best in-laws a person could wish for. I honour my parents-in-law for their devotion to their country, to every community they’ve lived in and to their own children.
I also have a cousin who is currently serving in the Canadian military and who has seen active duty in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He seems to have avoided the deep trauma that so many soldiers come home with and for that I am thankful.
If “honour” means to show respect for those who serve in the military, then I guess I do honour them. I have to respect people who choose to live from their convictions. But if honouring means that I agree with their choices and convictions, then I can’t do that. I can respect people whose views differ from mine but I must also live by my convictions.
I know that many people remembering today, do not share my belief in Jesus and his teaching to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ I also know that there are many people remembering today who DO believe in Jesus and are still able to accept concepts like “just war”, who have no problem serving in the military despite Jesus words. I wrestle with that.
I believe firmly, that we will never see peace in our world until all people accept and begin to live out the teaching to “love your enemies”- in our everyday lives as individuals and on a global scale as nations. I cannot honour a system that ignores this command and that says the only way to defend my beliefs and to show loyalty to country in the face of evil is to kill my enemy.
Perhaps I have the luxury of holding this view because I have never had to go to war. Certainly I have lived in times of conflict – there’s wars going on every day and our country is involved in them. But me personally? No. So I turn to people who have had that experience and who have been changed by it. Siegfried Bartel is an ex-soldier whose experience as a soldier turned him into a pacifist. His story is haunting and inspiring. I know him as a person of deep conviction, of unshakable faith, of dedication to the way of peace. After his war experience, he dedicated his life to active peacemaking and to sharing his story with young and old.
Here’s a short video clip that’s on the Mennonite Central Committee Canada website that includes Siegfried’s own voice, giving a call to peace-making. Please watch it, it is inspiring.
I realize that this topic is one that cannot simply be discussed in a few hundred words on a blog. I realize that there are those of you who read this blog and who would not share my views. I respect that. Today, I simply want to remember, to mourn, to consider what a world without war could look like, and what my part in that is. Today, I honour those who are dedicated to the way of peace.