Remembrance Day seems to be sticking with me this year for some reason. As a former peace activist, I’m one of those odd people who has always reflected on war and its causes and consequences*. Currently, glory and heroism are the dominant themes of the day. While I feel a strong debt of gratitude and support for our military and veterans, in my mind focusing on their heroism defeats the deeper purpose of the day: prevention.
The Mennonite Central Committee in Canada came up with the concept “To Remember is to work for Peace”, a few decades ago. “While Remembrance Day acknowledges the suffering that happens during war, it also affirms that wars are necessary,” says Esther Epp-Tiessen, MCC Canada’s peace program coordinator. “Our faith teaches us to love our enemies, to seek the well-being of our neighbours, and to do so through peaceful, non-violent means.”**
Over the decades, I’ve been impressed with these Mennonites the way they act on their beliefs in a big way – like forming volunteer brigades to build homes in developing countries. So I was happy to learn of their take on war and peace.
What does it mean to “work for peace”? Surely it has to begin with at least an understanding of the causes of war. These have been known and understood for a long time. In fact, this understanding was a part of the creation of the United Nations (The League of Nations) after the first world war, and eventually, Peacekeeping.
In the sixties, the trajectory was increasingly towards developing steps to the ‘permanent peace’ we used to dream of. It included a large, mainly successful and respected role for the U.N. We were still, underneath it all, afraid of nuclear war, so still motivated to prevent it.
In this new millennium, however, generations have grown up with a world full of nuclear weapons that have never been used. It is now taken for granted by most that they never will be.
Meanwhile, people like myself, the harbingers of potential disaster, are tired of trying to find new ways to sound the alarm bells. We too are moving increasingly toward escapist activities – Nero fiddling while Rome burns. I often suspect we are entertaining ourselves to death.
Meanwhile, Israel and Gaza are at each other again, without much serious reaction from abroad.* It doesn’t even show up on the Toronto Star’s website under “Hot Topics”. So much for another Remembrance Day.