Today is Remembrance Day. And it’s a special Remembrance Day -- the Armistice that ended the War to End All Wars came into effect exactly 100 years ago. At 11:00 a.m. on the 11thday of the 11thmonth of 1918 the guns fell silent.
If only we could say that they had stayed silent.
They haven’t. They’ve gotten more lethal. With the Second World War. Then with the Korean War and the Vietnam War, both of which I think of as outbreaks of the first World Civil War, with an incessant parade of people taking up arms against their own people. In Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Kashmir, in Sudan…
And then there are the eruptions where outside forces get involved in local conflicts: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen…
To mark this special anniversary, the Canadian Legion erected 240 crosses in Kelowna’s City Park -- one cross for each Canadian soldier from this area who died in the two World Wars.
The crosses are a more visible, and visceral, reminder than simply having names inscribed on the city’s Cenotaph.
“This being the 100thanniversary of the end of the First World War, we wanted to do something a little different and special to remember the fallen,” explained the Legion’s John Cashin.
I applaud their effort. But I think by focussing on the fallen, we miss something important.
Part of something bigger
The soldiers who died were not just individuals. They were part of a community. They had families. Relatives. People they worked with.
During the 1950s and ‘60s, I gather, psychologists debunked the idea that communities had any kind of collective consciousness. Communities were a fiction, said the conventional thinking of the time. Communities consisted of individuals, and it was only the individual who mattered.
The cult of individualism became so pervasive that author Robert Bellah mused, in Habits of the Heart, that the only way we could imagine breaking free of the individualistic mindset was to become even more individual.
But the tide may be turning.
Jonathan Haidt spends more than a chapter, in The Righteous Mind, documenting an increasing recognition that the group one belongs to, the group one affiliates oneself with, has a huge impact on what one thinks, and how one reacts.
His thesis is demonstrated every day in U.S. politics where loyalty to the group -- whether the Republican or the Democratic factions -- overrides people’s personal convictions about honesty, morality, compassion, and even common sense. Because it is unthinkable, literally unthinkable, to betray your group.
Survivors suffer too
I suggest that Remembrance Day needs to look not just at what those soldiers experienced in the mud and trenches of Vimy Ridge, the Somme, and Passchendaele; not just at the heroism of the Battle of Britain or Iwo Jima; not just at the suffering in prison camps in Germany, Thailand, and Hong Kong. We need to look also at the impact of war on the communities left at home.
The whole village of Walhachin, a prosperous colony of English settlers, died in the First World War, when its young men enlisted in the British army. Too few came back to sustain the flumes that brought distant water to the community crops.
If you look carefully, you may still see traces of those flumes amid the sagebrush on the hills west of Kamloops. But the last resident of what had been an affluent and stylish community left in 1922.
All Saints’ Anglican Church, on the hillside below my home in Okanagan Centre, died for the same reason. The priest had visions of a larger and more impressive building than the little Presbyterian church down by the lake. But World War I took most of the young men he was counting on to complete the building. Never consecrated, it was sold for a dollar in 1923.
Britain lost a whole generation of young men. So did Germany.
We all know that post-traumatic stress disorder can affect individuals for years. How long does PTSD take a community? A nation?
To be brutally frank, those who were left behind had to live with the death of their spouse, parent, lover, child, friend, and co-worker for the rest of their lives. Those who died, didn’t.
I don’t say that to disparage the sacrifice those young men made. To give your life for a cause not of your making is indeed a huge sacrifice.
But we also need to pay attention paid to the effects on their communities. How did it change their ways of running their lives? Their hopes and aspirations?
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Maybe the idea of humans hunting and killing albino children for their body parts was more than you wanted to deal with, because there weren’t as many letters as usual about last week’s column.
Isabel Gibson was short and to the point: “Thanks for shining a light on this despicable practice.”
Likewise, Bonnie Mulligan wrote, “Thanks Jim for bringing this subject to light. For those who are interested in learning more about this subject, I recommend reading ‘Beyond the Pale. Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes’ by Emily Urquhart (daughter of Canadian author Jane Urquhart). It is a book that is "part memoir, part cultural critique, and part genetic travelogue.”
JT comment: I haven’t read this book, so I can’t offer a personal recommendation, but it sounds as if it has something to teach us.
Chris Duxbury wrote from Australia, “It was rather disturbing. But, it does point to the power of what we believe. What we believe shapes our perceptions, and our minds naturally start searching for evidence to back up our beliefs. Like horoscopes. People read them and believe them and then look out for evidence that when found will add even more power to their thinking. Self-fulfilling prophecies. What we believe about God and the sacred will surely shape our perception too. Superstitions are beliefs. So, who gets to decide what beliefs are truer? Maybe it is a matter of discernment, and for Christians this is based on love being our guide as we look at our beliefs. Perhaps we may need to shift our beliefs. There is no love in hunting down of albinos. But some other beliefs are not so clear cut.”
John Shaffer felt that it is possible to do something, at least: “I am sure you have heard, if not told, the story of a person throwing starfish back into the ocean. Some one ridiculed him because it was physically impossible to save all the starfish. His response? ‘I saved that one.’
“We have shared a bit of our financial responses with two orphanages in the Congo. It is administered by Congolese persons, but a generic ‘we’ provide some funds and encouragement. We even decided to provide higher education or vocational training for those who qualified or wished it. Sadly, there are not enough jobs for those with training, but we are assuming and trusting that their quality of life and their country/community/church will be enhanced by their education.
“As in Central America, ‘outsiders’ have damaged local economies in cruel ways, so our contemporary impact is very small, but hopefully there is some positive impact.”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet