Sunday, November 11, 2012

peace justice and remembrance

We had an interesting discussion in our library the other day about school Remembrance Day ceremonies. There seems to be a few basic ways these seems to turn out, mostly variations on the theme of respect for the war dead and remembrance of both the purpose, futility, and cost of war. Sometimes we dwell on the heroics, sometimes on the suffering. The students do a great job of putting the elements together, and often add something that shows they have gone beyond sentiment to probe into deeper symbols and meaning behind military remembrance. Some of us cringe at the "Pittance of Time" bits that equate quietness with peace (although I have more respect for that specific video once I learned it was based on the artist's actual experience). Everything has its place, I suppose, but we are often left looking for something else, something with an edge that might get students thinking about what is to be done with the sentiment.

I have written about this topic before -- Peace and Remembrance and the White Poppy (2010) and Peace and Remembrance, the Tight Rope (2011). This year I'm wondering what it would look like to transform our remembrance into some kind of call for social justice, restorative practice, an end to violence across society, a weeding out of the coercive tendencies in our institutions, a gaze towards what nonviolence and passive resistance has accomplished, and a rejection of war as a default means of resolving conflict.

I'm also concerned that the "Harper Government" is willing to exploit remembrance and rewrite some of the social and peacekeeping history of our nation and emphasize our warlike prowess. This aggressive persona is the one that they want to project on the world stage, and it is the kind of nationalist posturing that leads to armed conflict in the first place.  If we're going to interpret the symbols and conduct the ceremonies one way or the other (for they are never free of bias or instructive purpose), we should be adding Peace to the Remembrance.

I came across this when thinking about the topic -- something along these lines might give a Peace and Remembrance Ceremony the edge it needs to go beyond regret for past grief and give us pause to ask if we've actually changed the conditions that lead to war. We don;t need to take anything away from respect for the war dead, but we should be more fixated on preventing future youth from becoming war dead.

Here's another possibility for a Peace and Remembrance Ceremony after a reading of In Flanders Fields:
We remember Lt. John McCrae, soldier, poet and healer: a physician enraged by the madness of what was then the world’s most deadly war ever, he could not then see any other way but to ask us to take up his quarrel with his enemy. Now freed from bonds of time and space, now seeing all things clearly, perhaps he would ask us to take up an even brighter torch, to battle an even more deadly foe: to take up the torch of peace, to do battle with all that separates brother from brother, sister from sister.

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