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In Our View: From memory into history

We need new ways to mark the great wars as many veterans die of old age
John Swityk at age 97 in 2018 at a Langley Remembrance Day event. The D-Day veteran turned 100 last year. (Langley Advance Times files)

The responsibility for remembering the worst wars of the last century is about to pass from those who remember them directly, to those who will only know them through books and faded photographs.

At this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, there will still be a few veterans of the Second World War, and some Korean War veterans. There will be Canadian veterans of peacekeeping missions and Cold War service, as well as those who took part in the war in Afghanistan.

But it was not so long ago that the front rows at the annual ceremonies, the parades before them, were crowded with Second World War and even First World War veterans. As recently as the 1980s in Aldergrove, a centenarian veteran of the Boer War would rise for the moment of silence at the legion’s cenotaph.

But veterans of the Second World War are now almost all in their late 90s, Korea vets are just a few years younger. Canada’s other military and peacekeeping missions have been significant, but have involved far fewer people.

This means that the responsibility to commemorate, remember, and to learn the lessons we can from past wars, falls increasingly out of living memory.

More and more, it will be historians, teachers, legion members, students, and everyday people who will bear most of this responsibility.

The way we celebrate Remembrance Day will change. Children attending today will remember the Second World War veterans. The next generation will have to find some other way to hold on to the most important lessons of Remembrance Day.

A good starting point would be to remember that not all wars are just, and that even just wars – against fascism and genocide – send good people to their deaths, grind up countries, and separate families. These are hard lessons for those who have never served, but we have to learn them.

– M.C.

READ ALSO: Langley vet turns 100