Did We Forget?

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Lest We Forget. The mantra of Remembrance Day is more than a polite reminder to celebrate the heroism of the past: it is a stark warning of the horrors of the Great Wars, from the generation that lived them, to the generations they hope will never have to. That generation’s young people would have felt much the same as the young people of today; the only difference being that they lived what today’s generations have only read about. Reading about it, and living it, are two very different things.

One day, I was following along a Queen Street streetcar route diversion to the next Stop. This took me past St. James Cathedral and the St. James Cross. I noticed an inscription at the base of the monument. I read it, and it went straight to my heart:

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Photo of the inscription at the base of the St. James Cathedral Cross monument.

…this cross commemorates the glorious sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the great war 1914 – 1918 and appeals to those for whom they died to lay aside hatred and strife and to seek brotherhood and peace under the banner of Christ…

….and I find myself wondering, have we been paying attention?

These are the last words of that generation of young Canadians, many of whom were torn to bits by machinegun fire or felled by mustard gas as they marched toward the enemy lines. Along with sacrificing their young lives, they left for our generation a parting sentiment: the hope that the indescribable (and unnecessary) horrors which they experienced, will never, ever, be repeated. The evil that generation of Canadians witnessed was so egregious and unnatural, that, rather than urge us to fight hatred and strife, (as we have been doing), they tell us to “…lay [them] aside…” Our in-kind response to the hatred of others, in the name of peace, is rather pushing us further from the goal. This was the epiphany which fell upon the WWII generation: Violence, no matter what the justification, might reduce the fires of hatred to smouldering for awhile, but  they remain poised to erupt into global conflagration when conditions become right again.

The Great War generation knew intimately the utter unreality of one human being doing violence to another – explosions, mustard gas, the moans of the mortally wounded, children crying over the bodies of felled parents…they saw that, though their cause was just, that cause just didn’t matter; that what they had to do to end violence, was actually perpetuating it.

The Great War generation wants their sacrifice to be the thing that ends war – so that they may know  their time on Earth was meaningful. Therefore they urge us to “…lay aside hatred and strife and to seek brotherhood and peace…”

Now, this monument urges all of these good things to be done “…under the banner of Christ.” I believe the Christ has visited humankind in several personalities, not just in one. The message of the Christ, just like the warning of the Great War generation of Canadians, is not intended for only certain people at certain times and certain places; rather the Christ’s message is for all people at all times and places, and is continually being renewed.