Remembrance Day 2020 – Who are the War Dead?


Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. King George V dedicated the memorial as a day of remembrance for members of the armed forces who were killed in WW I.

We’ve since added many more people to our list of remembrance. Veterans Affairs Canada states that the date is of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.

Remembrance Day provides us with an opportunity to contemplate those who give their lives in war. The war dead usually refers to military personnel who die in the midst of defending their nation or the values of an ally nation.

It’s probably time for us to broaden our notion of who comprises the war dead and all those who suffer from the fallout of war. Increasingly, the war dead includes civilians who are caught up in the violence. How often we hear of civilians who are collateral damage.

We’ve probably forgotten how often we hear news of a bomb killing and injuring people gathered for a wedding or funeral. These are innocent bystanders, people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, we can think of the innocent people sitting in a sidewalk cafe. A bomb has interrupted their pleasant afternoon outing. They have been dragged into war.

Most victims of war are increasingly innocent civilians. That shift started happening as most warfare moved away from direct action in the field, where you could actually see the enemy. That worsens as weapons become more sophisticated and the attacks take place remotely.

Think of attacks by drones operated by military personnel thousands of kilometres away. They use all the best intelligence available to them, but the eyes of a satellite are not as understanding as human eyes, which can distinguish between a wedding dress and a military uniform. An attack comes from the sky. Does the bomber really distinguish among the many people on the ground? It’s easier to kill the enemy when you aren’t looking directly into his or her eyes.

We’ve become more aware of the plight of migrants and refugees in the past few years. Far too many of them are displaced from their native homes because war is taking place around them. They are innocent victims of war.

Some die in their efforts to flee a violent situation. Some make it to a refugee camp. A few lucky ones make it to welcoming nations. If they live, they always carry with them the memory of war.

There are many military personnel who manage to make it back home. What do they face? They may recover from their physical injuries. The psychological stress can’t be healed as effectively. Take a look at suicide rates for returning veterans. Read about the many who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Sometimes veterans are recognized as heroes. Other times we turn a blind eye to the reality of the lives they live after war and the impact on loved ones.

Dare we even mention children? How do we document the number of innocent children left orphaned by war, those who have grown up knowing no reality except war, those who were conceived and raised in refugee camps? Are they not victims of war?

Why do we remember victims of war? Or, rather, what do we hope for as a grace of remembering? It certainly makes us more conscious. The hope is that our heightened consciousness means that our understanding, compassion and action for justice will take on new meaning.

We generally remember the war dead on special occasions during the year. We can be certain that the ones they leave behind don’t confine their remembering to November 11. They remember, sometimes hauntingly, every day of the year.

I read a short story many years ago by Tim O’Brien, a veteran of the Vietnam War. The Things They Carried beautifully portrays the things the troops carried into battle, both the physical things on their backs and the emotional, psychological and spiritual stuff they carried in their hearts.

Today, Remembrance Day, provides us with an opportunity to broaden our understanding of the war dead. Let’s also broaden our understanding of the many things stirring within the hearts of those who came home from the battlefield.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Gabrielle Feuvrier
    Posted at 04:51h, 11 November Reply

    Philip, great to read your post, as always. Thanks much for broadening my view on this day. From Paris, France, Gabrielle

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 23:13h, 11 November Reply

    Thank you Philip!

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