Friday, 11 November 2016

Remembrance Day

My paternal Great Grandfather - Adam McBride
My paternal Grandfather - Adam McBride
My paternal Uncle - R. Adam McBride
My Father - Richard T. McBride
My Brother - R. Adam McBride
My Brother - Matthew G. McBride
My Nephew - Richard T. A. McBride

My maternal Grandfather - C. Robert Keller

These are the names I remember on Remembrance Day. These are the men I knew, or knew of through them. These are the ones in my family who served their country proudly and, in all cases, came home after their wars to build a life, a society, a community, a family. These are the men for whom service was the simple act of following a long family tradition.

My name is not on that list. I did not serve. As an avowed pacifist, I am not ashamed of my decision to not join a branch of the Canadian military service. If I had joined up, though, it would most likely have been into the Navy, as did my Dad and brothers.

My Great Grandfather and both of my Grandfathers fought in the First World War, the war to end all wars. My Uncle Adam lied about his age, signed up at 15, and went off to fight in the Second World War. My Dad, along with my Uncle Doug Wessel, the man who ultimately married my Aunt Diane, both fought in the Korean War, a war so political it wasn't even called a war. It was technically a UN Police Action. Yet still men died, serving as their governments directed them.

I admire these men, their courage and bravery in the face of terrifying battle. I have a copy of my Grandfather Keller's remembrances of the WWI, written long after the war, a collection of memories, some cruel, some funny, some ironic, all of them demonstrating once again the arbitrariness of life and death, war or no. My Uncle Adam told a great many stories, so many we often wondered which were true and which were exaggerations, which really happen to him and which he lifted from the lives of others.

My Dad rarely spoke of his war experiences, except to tell the funny stories or to reminisce about his time as a young man on leave in Tokyo. The one story he did tell me was of the fight in Inchon Harbour, South Korea. He was on a Canadian destroyer, well into the bay. There was an oil installation on shore going up in flames, spilling a slick on the water. A Korean solder was desperately swimming away from the now burning slick. My Dad and a group of sailors on deck started making bets as to whether or not he would get away.

When Dad was telling me this story, he stopped at this point. I asked him what happened. My Dad, in a dull and unemotional voice said "He died." No additional comment. Nothing else to add. He did not say which way he had bet, nor express any sympathy for that ugly death. I wondered what his feelings were about this, but after a moment of silence my Dad changed the subject, moving on to fishing or hunting or something else in the current world, no longer interested in the past.

War is an ugly business, made uglier by modern technology. Yet it seems to be our most impressive skill, this killing of one another. We have made war since mankind began. We are currently at war, against the ideas of ISIS and the war lords of Afghanistan. Young men and women will surrender their lives at the behest of old men sitting in rooms far away from their sacrifice. I wonder how long wars would last if we only sent old men to do the fighting, leaving the young men to build lives, futures, and families without the emotional damage of battle.

Or perhaps we can live with the hope that one day, one future day, war will be just a memory. Remembrance Day will be a reminder against war, rather than a memorial to those who died in war.

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