11 November 2009

Why is November 11th only for those who sacrifice in war?

Today, many Canadians will commemorate the sacrifice of men and women who died serving their country in battle. And why not? Sacrifice in a good cause is certainly honourable. Sacrifice in a bad cause, such as the First World War ... well, best save that for another day.

But why, on this day of memory, do we only honour those men and women who give their lives in war? We all serve our country, and people in various professions sacrifice their lives for the greater good. Fishermen, police officers, miners, firemen, loggers, journalists, and others take risks in their working lives serving the rest of us. When they too make the ultimate sacrifice, why are they not included in the wearing of poppies, the moment of silence, the memorial services of November 11th? Memorial services exist for groups other than the military but they are restricted to the periphery of our national consciousness.

Is dying in the act of killing others more honourable than simply dying in the service of others? Is a fisherman who dies at sea less worthy of commemoration than a soldier who dies in Afghanistan? Personally, I have a great deal more respect for a killer of fish than a killer of men.

I understand the primitive urge to defend the tribe. It is genetic and powerful, and has always made the defender of the tribe, the warrior, the first among men. But in an age when our weapons for that defence - nuclear, chemical and biological - can destroy us all, surely we must get beyond the primitive instincts and rituals of the warrior ethos. We should at least include equally in our rituals those who make the ultimate sacrifice in constructive endeavours rather than destructive ones.

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